As noted in the update to my original posting, it would appear that Neil Diamond has been supplanted by Tommy James & the Shondells as the new reigning champions in the pioneering use of toy piano in musical recordings with their 1967 pop hit, “Out of the Blue.” The details – unfortunately – are a bit convoluted.
On the one hand, we know Neil Diamond recorded “Shilo” in 1967, and there even is(was) a video on the web purporting to be an early live performance of “Shilo” at The Bitter End in New York City from August 1967. However, Tommy James and the Shondells released a string of five singles in 1967 – the final one of the year being “Out of the Blue,” which (I recently discovered) features some toy piano accompaniment. So, two songs from 1967 – Neil would still seem to be, given the chronology noted above, the likely winner of the toy-piano-in-pop-music-contest, right?
Not so fast. As it turns out, Bert Berns, the owner of Neil’s record label, Bang, adamantly refused to release “Shilo” as a single despite Neil’s protestations. This was a deal-breaker for Neil, so he left the label and signed with MCA imprint, Uni. Bang would eventually release “Shilo” as a 45 – but not until 1970 (which then prompted Neil to re-issue his 1968 debut album for Uni but then add a brand-new arrangement of “Shilo”). Complicating matters is chart information on Wikipedia saying that “Shilo” was released as an A-side in September 1968, even though by then Neil had already signed to Uni, who had released his first album – which did not include “Shilo” (told you it was complicated). Even if “Shilo” had been issued as a 45 in the summer of 1968, it is now clear that “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James was first on the radio airwaves – we have a new winner!
[Pssst: Click the triangle to play “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James & the Shondells.]
Note: This mix from the 1968 Columbia Records compilation LP – Super Stars, Super Hits #2 – features groovy outer space sound effects on the intro and outro.