In late January 1969, The Temptations were just a couple weeks away from releasing the group's landmark ninth studio album, Cloud Nine, on February 17 of the same year. It was January 30 specifically when the band would drop "Runaway Child, Running Wild" as a single.
Inspired by the politically-charged and acid rock-inspired sound of Sly and the Family Stone, Cloud Nine would mark The Temptations' foray into making what would be known as "Psychedelic Soul" with producer Norman Whitfield.
"Runaway Child, Running Wild" would double-down on both counts. The song would feature all five members of the group--Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin--getting a verse of their own across the expansive track that ran nearly 10 full minutes.
Lyrically, the song told the tale of an impetuous teen running away from home and his parents. Once he hits the streets, however, reality starts to set in. Lost, alone, and hungry with no money, the tune breaks down to the voice of the child wailing for his mother over screaming organs and fuzzed-out guitars. The track is famous for scaring countless kids straight, deterring them from running away themselves.
A severely edited version of "Runaway Child, Running Wild" that would trim the run time down to 4:53 would peak at #6 on the Hot 100 on March 29, 1969. The #1 song in the country that week: "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe. The tune would hit the top spot on Billboard's Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.