Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“Out of the Blue”: Earliest Toy Piano Pop Recording?

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?

Record World

November 11, 1967

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Bert Berns, the owner of Diamond’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!

Out of the Blue – Tommy James & the Shondells

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.

Out of the Blue - Tommy James 45


*September 2021 Update:

Zero to 180’s comprehensive survey of “Toy Piano in Pop Recordings

= Okay to ignore all prior toy piano posts =

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