Ebony and Ivory
Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder
Writer(s): Paul McCartney (see lyrics here)
Released: March 29, 1982
Peak: 17 US, 16 CB, 16 GR, 40 HR, 14 RR, 15 AC, 8 RB, 34 AR, 13 UK, 15 CN, 2 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 3.56 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 14.48 video, -- streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Paul McCartney explained that he got the idea for “Ebony and Ivory” from English comedian Spike Milligan. He saw him on a TV show playing a piano where the keys were segregated, demonstrating how one couldn’t work without the other. SF Paul wrote the song after a fight with his wife Linda, saying, “Why can’t we get it together – our piano can.” SF It took on the greater message of racial harmony with Paul’s acknowledgment that “you can play using just the black notes, or you can play using just the white notes, but combining them gives you great notes. That, I suppose, is a great analogy.” FB
While recording the song, Paul thought it would be a good idea to record it as a duet with Stevie Wonder. When Stevie heard the song, he said “I liked it very much…I liked what it was talking about…I felt like it was positive for everyone.” FB They got together on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies to record the song together, but were not together to film the video. Through the magic of editing, however, they appeared to be performing side by side on the keys of a giant piano. FB
“Ebony and Ivory” marked the first time McCartney had released a duet with another major artist. WK It proved to be a good move. The song debuted at an impressive #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top five weeks later. The song wasn’t just the biggest chart-topper of McCartney’s solo career, but for any of the ex-Beatles. It was also the biggest #1 for Stevie Wonder.
While the song proved to be a hit of the moment, it didn’t hold up for fans in the long run. It “was often mocked as superficial and maudlin.” SF Critics considered “its message as overly simplistic and sentimental.” WK Blender magazine ranked it as the 10th worst song of all time in 2004. SF In 2007, BBC 6 Music listeners named it the worst duet ever. SF
First posted 11/8/2020; last updated 12/26/2022.