Ebony and Ivory

Album: Tug Of War (1982)
Charted: 1 1

Songfacts®:

  • A duet between Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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. It 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 it #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
  • This was Stevie Wonder's first #1 single in the UK. His only other was "I Just Called To Say I Love You" in 1984.
  • 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.
  • Wonder programmed the drums for this track using a Linn drum machine. McCartney added the bass.
  • In October 2007, BBC 6 Music listeners named this their worst duet ever.
  • This was used in episodes of Diff'rent Strokes ("The Music Man" - 1982) and Ugly Betty ("A Nice Day for a Posh Wedding" - 2007).

    In the season 1 Friends episode "The One with Ross's Tan," the song gets a mention when Ross shows up with a very uneven tan. "You can do a duet of 'Ebony And Ivory' all by yourself," Chandler tells him.

Comments: 16

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenWell intentioned, but in the end, the song is rather sappy and about as subtle as a two-by-four in the face.
  • Julia from Milton, Pai also remember psych promo
  • Julia from Milton, Pathat's depressing. such a beautiful song doesn't deserve top 10 worst songs of all time. or worst duet ever. come on people.
  • Adam from York, Payou know that we didn't start the fire, kokomo, we built this city, courtesy of the red, white, and blue, the sound of silence, and i'd do anything for love but i won't do that are also on the blender list. WE BUILT THIS CITY is ranked 1. Blender is mentally ill and everyone with any sanity knows it. But if you want a laugh, check out the most crazy musicians ever by blender, youll laugh a lot.
  • Caryn from Satellite Beach, FlI am a big Beatles fan, and love most of Paul's solo work. This song has a great message, but I unfortunately agree that it belongs in the top ten worst songs ever.
  • Jeff from Boston, MaGreat example of a song that was an absolute mammoth smash hit when it debuted but that you will never hear on the radio today.
  • Og from Los Angeles, CaThis is a very good song with a good message.
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI love the song! I saw the video years ago. I know when I watched Larry King Live,Stevie Wonder Met MLK jr when he was 14,but briefly.On Black to The Future[70s] they were mocking Stevie Wonder.
  • Sandra from Gardnerville, NvIt is no "wonder" that Paul McCartney admired Stevie Wonder. Paul McCartney has always had a melody in his mind. He was born that way, I think. He really became the driving force for The Beatles. Admit it or not. He is, also, a smart business man...The collaboration was genius. As for the song, I enjoy it very much. It is simple and has a great "harmony" to it. I sing both parts...Love it.
  • Emma from Duxbury, MaSomething hilarious- James Roday and Dule Hill (co-stars from Psych) sing this in a promo for the new season of Psych, starting July 18th. It's so cheesy it's hilarious!
  • N.i. from Baltimore, MdI also like this song, and I don't even normally like soft ballads. The negativity it has received seems to reflect the cynicism of our times: sweet, optimistic tropes about racial harmony have been considered naive and simplistic ever since the decline of the civil rights movement.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiagreat video for this , the black prisoner on the chain gang , driving the white warden nuts ,
  • Dave from Cebu, PeruGlad is just number 10 not the number one worst song ever. But that is still unfair. I love this song!
  • Dave from Cebu, PeruI love this song but why many people mocked this song and what!? this is the number 10 worst song ever in a magazine called Blender Magazine!
  • Martin from Eastbourne, EnglandThe irony is, the video parts were filmed seperately - no 'perfect harmony side by side' there. There are so many better anti-racism songs.
  • Ian from Lethbridge, CanadaI like this song. I don't know why so many people don't.
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