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Listener's Guide

Let's Play Spot the Ondioline!

Jean-Jacques Perrey playing piano and ondiolineThe ondioline, a small electronic keyboard instrument invented in the 1940s by Georges Jenny, holds a special place in the hearts of space age pop fans. Something about the high reedy sound and its distinctive vibrato gives a space age touch to the driest old saw. So let's play a quick round of "Spot the Ondioline"!

What's the first pop recording to use the Ondioline?
The first pop recording using the ondioline was made in France in 1951, "L'ame des poetes" by Charles Trenet. You can hear the ondioline clearly in the first few measures of the recording.

Earliest use of the Ondioline in an American pop recording?

Probably Esquivel's 1959 album, "Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi" (RCA), where it appears on his original tune, "Whatchamacallit." But who was playing? On the other hand, Alex North's score for the Kirk Douglas-Stanley Kubrick spectacle, "Spartacus," released in 1960 (MGM), claimed to be the first use of the Ondioline on a major American recording.

What's the biggest hit record to feature the Ondioline?
Cover of Kai Winding album 'More' AKA 'Soul Surfin''It's commonly thought to be Del Shannon's "Runaway," 1961, with the bridge later ripped off in John Williams' theme to "Lost in Space." But the instrument here is not the Ondioline, but a variant of the clavioline called the Musitron. The correct answer is the single, "More (Theme from 'Mondo Cane'), from the Kai Winding album, Soul Surfin'. It reached #8 on the Billboard charts in August 1963. Later printings of the album were released as More to cash in on the success of the single.

Who really played the Ondioline on More and the other great Kai Winding/Claus Ogerman Verve albums of the mid-1960s?
The liner notes consistently identify Winding as the player, but says that Jean Jacques Perrey himself claims to have been the performer, and that makes a little more sense.

So when did Perrey record on the Ondioline under his own name?
In 1966, Perrey recorded "The In Sound from Way Out" for Vanguard, which had, until then, specialized in folk and budget classical recordings.

Best outer space album to feature the Ondioline?
Another tie. Marty Manning's The Twilight Zone: A Sound Adventure in Space (Columbia, 1960) has an all-star cast, with Manning on keyboards, Harry Breuer on vibes, Jerry Murad on harmonica, and special sound effects by Attilio Mineo.

And, finally, who recorded a song in honor of the Ondioline?
Stereolab released their single, "Jenny Ondioline," in 19??. Here's a sample of the lyrics:
Life on earth is a bloody
As in the city the public wears...
I think the brilliant cast for insane realities to come
and that's a decisive battle that we...haven't we lost
Well, so maybe it wasn't exactly a love song to the Ondioline.

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