Ebony and Ivory

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"Ebony and Ivory"
Ebony and Ivory.jpg
Single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
from the album Tug of War
ReleasedMarch 29, 1982
Format7", 12"
LabelParlophone/EMI (UK)
Columbia (US)
Songwriter(s)Paul McCartney
Producer(s)George Martin
Paul McCartney singles chronology
"Temporary Secretary"
"Ebony and Ivory"
"Take It Away"
Stevie Wonder singles chronology
"Do I Do"
"Ebony and Ivory"
"Ribbon in the Sky"

"Ebony and Ivory" is a 1982 number-one single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. It was released on March 29 of that year. The song is featured on McCartney's album Tug of War. A self-empowerment hit that struggles issues of racial equality, the song reached number one on both the UK and the US charts.[1][2] It reappears on McCartney's All the Best! hits compilation (1987), and also on the UK two-disc version of Wonder's The Definitive Collection greatest hits compilation (2002). In 2013, Billboard ranked the song as the 69th biggest hit of all-time on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.[3]


At the simplest level, the song is about the ebony (black) and ivory (white) keys on a piano, but also deals with integration and racial harmony on a deeper, human level. The title was inspired by McCartney hearing Spike Milligan say "black notes, white notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony, folks!".[4] The figure of speech is much older. It was popularized by James Aggrey in the 1920s, inspiring the title of the pan-African journal The Keys, but was in use from at least the 1840s.[5]

Written by McCartney alone, the song was performed live in the studio by both McCartney and Wonder, though due to conflicting work schedules, both recorded their parts for the song's music video separately (as explained by McCartney in his commentary for The McCartney Years 3-DVD boxed set).

A video for the solo version was also made, which showed McCartney playing piano with a bright spotlight, and black males in prison, including one of them being uplifted by the song, dancing and listening to it in prison as well as in the studio. This version was directed by Barry Myers on 11 February 1982. That same day, McCartney filmed a promotional interview for the Tug of War album.[6]

The B-side of the single, the song "Rainclouds", is written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine, though on early pressings of the single the song was credited only to McCartney.[7]

Chart performance[edit]

"Ebony and Ivory" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the fourth-biggest hit of 1982.[8] For McCartney, the song's run atop the chart was the longest of any of his post-Beatles works, and second longest career-wise (behind "Hey Jude" with The Beatles); for Wonder, it was his longest-running chart-topper and made him the first solo artist to score a least one No. 1 single within three consecutive decades.[9] It marked the first time that any single released by any member of the Beatles hit the Billboard R&B chart. It was McCartney's record 28th song to hit number one on the Billboard 100.[10]

In 2008, the song was ranked at #59 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.[11] In 2013, it was ranked #69 on the Billboard list of the Hot 100 songs of all-time.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

The song was derided as "saccharine"[12][13] and was later named as the tenth worst song of all time by Blender magazine in April 2009.[14] In October 2007, it was named the worst duet in history by BBC 6 Music listeners.[15]

The song and video were spoofed in a 1983 Saturday Night Live sketch, with Eddie Murphy portraying Wonder and Joe Piscopo, as Frank Sinatra, assuming McCartney's role. In the sketch, Sinatra criticizes the "ebony and ivory" metaphor for racial equality (which was deemed by many critics to be overly simplistic, to the point of being insulting) as being "too artsy for the public – capiche?" After a brief exchange, the duo perform the song with more direct, and offensive lyrics ("“You are black, and I am white Life’s an Eskimo Pie, let’s.. take a bite!").[16]

The phrase, "Keyboard, Oh Lord! Why Don't We?" was used for the title of the third album by Norwegian stoner rock band Thulsa Doom. The song and video were parodied in a commercial for the 2008 season of the USA Network show Psych.[17]

"Ebony and Ivory" was banned in South Africa by the South African Broadcasting Corporation during the Apartheid era, making it the only song McCartney released in his solo career to receive such a ban. The official reason for the song's ban was because Stevie Wonder accepted his 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song "in the name of Nelson Mandela."[18][19]

Track listings[edit]

7" single (R 6054)
  1. "Ebony and Ivory" – 3:41
    • With additional vocals by Stevie Wonder
  2. "Rainclouds" – 3:47
12" single (12R 6054)
  1. "Ebony and Ivory" – 3:41
    • With additional vocals by Stevie Wonder
  2. "Rainclouds" – 3:47
  3. "Ebony and Ivory" (Solo Version) – 3:41


"Ebony and Ivory"



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Paul McCartney Charts and Awards". allmusic. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  2. ^ "Official Charts: Paul McCartney". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  3. ^ a b c Bronson, Fred (2 August 2012). "Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  4. ^ Martin, George (editor): Making Music, page 62. Pan Books, 1983. ISBN 0-330-26945-3
  5. ^ 'Master and mistress, and neighbors, and negroes assemble, and black and white are seen strung along the great table, like the keys of a piano, and, like the aforesaid instrument, the black keys make fully as much noise as the white; all mingle for a while in the utmost harmony and good feeling....' Rev C F Sturgis, 'Duties of Christian Masters to their Slaves' (1849) quoted in Breedon, James O (editor), Advice among Masters: The Ideal in Slave Management in the Old South (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), page 262.
  6. ^ Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium; Chip Madinger and Mark Easter; Page 266
  7. ^ "Ebony and Ivory". JPGR. 2000. Retrieved 2013-09-25.
  8. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles – 1982
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel, "Top Pop Singles: 1955–2006," 2007.
  10. ^ "American Top 40 replay". Green Bay, Wisconsin. 1982-05-22. Missing or empty |series= (help)
  11. ^ "The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (60–51)". Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  12. ^ Jackson, Andrew Grant (1 January 2012). Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of the Beatles' Solo Careers. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810882225. Retrieved 3 March 2017 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Alleyne, Richard (2012-01-25). "Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder back in the studio together for the first time 30 years". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Run for Your Life! It's the 50 Worst Songs Ever!". Blender. Archived from the original on December 31, 2009.
  15. ^ "Ebony and Ivory voted worst duet". BBC News. 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  16. ^ "SNL Transcripts Tonight: Ebony & Ivory". SNL Transcripts Tonight. 2018-10-08. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  17. ^ PSYCH Sing-Along "Ebony & Ivory" on YouTube
  18. ^ "Stevie Wonder Music Banned in South Africa". The New York Times. 27 March 1985. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
  19. ^ "Mandela: South Africa's Star Attractor". The Washington Post. 1998-07-25. Retrieved 2012-02-11.
  20. ^ a b c "Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – Ebony & Ivory". norwegiancharts.com / VG-lista. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  21. ^ Lwin, Nanda (2000). Top 40 Hits: The Essential Chart Guide.
  22. ^ "Paul McCartney Japanese Singles Chart listings". Original Confidence. Archived from the original on 2012-07-09. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  23. ^ "Japan #1 IMPORT DISKS". Archived from the original on 2015-04-21. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  24. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (M)". Rock.co.za. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  25. ^ Sólo éxitos: año a año : 1959–2002. Salaverri, Fernando. Iberautor Promociones Culturales. 2005. ISBN 9788480486392. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  26. ^ "Paul McCartney - Ebony & Ivory". swedishcharts.com. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  27. ^ "The Official Charts Company – Paul McCartney And Stevie Wonder – Ebony And Ivory". BPI. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  28. ^ a b "Tug of War > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  29. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  30. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  31. ^ "The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  32. ^ Swiss Year-End Charts, 1982
  33. ^ Rees, Dafydd; Lazell, Barry; Jones, Alan (1983). "The Top 100 UK Singles". Chart File Volume 2. London, England: Virgin Books. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-907080-73-1.
  34. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1982/Top 100 Songs of 1982". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  35. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles – 1982". Archived from the original on 11 July 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2017.