As noted in the update to my original posting, it appears 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 “Out of the Blue,” their pop hit from 1967. 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, who would release Diamond’s first single in April of 1968. Bang, in turn, issued “Shilo” as an A-side five months later (out of spite, one assumes), followed soon after by Diamond’s first album for Uni – Velvet Gloves and Spit – which does not include “Shilo” (told you it was complicated). Even with the release of “Shilo” 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!
Note: Special mix from 1968 Columbia Records compilation LP Super Stars, Super Hits #2 that features groovy outer space sound effects on the intro and outro.
August 2021 Update:
Everly Brothers — New Toy Piano Champs!