“Shilo”: First Pop Use of Toy Piano?

Two songs were recorded in 1971 that featured toy piano lines:  “Butterfly” by Danyel Gerard – a big international hit – and “Only You” by NRBQ, a song from their Scraps album that was released as the B-side to “Ain’t It All Right.”

Only You - NRBQ 45

For the longest time I thought (quite naively) that 1971 might have possibly been the year in which toy piano made its first appearance on a pop record.  But then I happened to hear Neil Diamond‘s “Shilo” – written and recorded in 1967 – which features a toy piano in the song’s instrumental bridge:

“Shilo”     Neil Diamond     1967

Years later I heard the toy piano instrumental break on “Lovey Kravezit” by The Everly Brothers from their 1966 album, In Our Image, and wondered if we had a new record holder:

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Toy Piano as “Serious” Instrument: On Philip Glass’ website the accompanying notes to 1997’s, The Art of the Toy Piano, provide some fascinating historical background:

In Philadelphia, 1872, the German immigrant Albert Schoenhut began manufacturing toy pianos according to his own newly-invented design. Wooden mallets struck sounding bars made of metal, replacing the fragile glass sounding-pieces used in toy pianos at that time. His new instrument could better withstand a child’s rough handling and its gamelan-like timbre is the sound of the toy piano as we know it today. By 1935, the A. Schoenhut Company had produced over forty styles and sizes of the toy instrument with prices ranging from fifty cents to twenty-five dollars –“a piano for every purse and taste”, boasted its 1903 catalogue…

The toy piano was intended as an educational tool. The more expensive models stood nineteen to twenty-four inches tall, had raised black notes instead of imitation painted ones, full-width wooden keys and a range of two to three octaves. An instruction manual taught a child such American favorites as Home Sweet Home and Yankee Doodle.

In 1948, John Cage composed his whimsical “Suite for Toy Piano.”  Using nine consecutive white notes, this became the first “serious” piece ever written for a toy piano.

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