This is a song about racial harmony, using piano keys as a metaphor. The black keys on a piano are ebony, and the white ones are ivory - the song asks why we all can't lie together in perfect harmony like the keys. (thanks, Jeremy - Seattle, WA)
Paul McCartney wrote this song, saying that the message was "that people of all types could live together."
He liked the piano analogy, since you can play using just the white keys or just the black keys, but to make great music, you have to combine them.
McCartney started recording this as a solo effort, but then got the idea to do it as a duet with Stevie Wonder. A demo made its way to Wonder, and he agreed to record it, standing wholeheartedly behind the message in the song. The song was issued as a single and appeared on McCartney's 1982 album Tug Of War.
This was a huge hit in the US, staying at #1 for seven weeks. Listeners quickly tired of the song, however, and it got very little radio play after it dropped off the charts. In the following years, the song was often mocked as superficial and maudlin, a stark contrast to the many McCartney and Wonder songs that have stood the test of time. In 2004, Blender magazine ranked this #10 on their list of the worst songs of all time.
Beatles producer George Martin produced this track and the rest of the Tug Of War
album. It was Martin's 21st US #1 production (his first post-Beatles chart-topper was "Sister Golden Hair
" for America); his 22nd was another Paul McCartney duet: "Say Say Say
" by McCartney and Michael Jackson.
McCartney originally conceived the idea for this song after watching English comedian Spike Milligan playing on a TV show a segregated piano, on which the white and black keys were kept apart, in order to demonstrate how one couldn't work without the other. He subsequently penned the song after a marital tiff with Linda. McCartney said in to Mojo magazine March 2009: "It was like, 'Why can't we get it together- our piano can.'"
In 1982, Saturday Night Live did a skit mocking this song where Joe Piscopo (playing Frank Sinatra) sings it with alternate lyrics along with Eddie Murphy portraying Wonder. Sample lyric: "You are black and I am white, you are blind as a bat and I have sight."
Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded the duet together on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies. However, due to conflicting work schedules, both laid down their parts for the song's music video separately.
In October 2007, BBC 6 Music listeners named this their worst duet ever.