“Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney (ft. Stevie Wonder)

As is pointed out towards the end of this article, “Ebony and Ivory” is mega-simplistic in its approach. It is based on one of the easiest-to-decipher metaphors perhaps in the history of number-one hits. You see a keyboard features both “ebony” and “ivory” keys that work “together” to produce “perfect harmony”. And the singers, both being akin to A-list humanitarian artists, are likewise wondering why Black and White people can’t get along similarly.

And no, this is not to imply that when “Ebony and Ivory” was released in the early-1980s it was during a hot era of racial tension. Indeed Macca even wondered at a point if the song would be relevant. But the overall message contained therein – of people living side-by-side peacefully – is a universal one. And the singers are enlightened enough to understand that people themselves aren’t perfect. However, they also perceive that in society we have an intrinsic co-dependency on each other. And as such, the implication is that the actual achievement of racial harmony in today’s world requires some degree of conscientious effort, which Macca and Stevie are apparently espousing.

Writing Credits for “Ebony and Ivory”

This song was written by Paul McCartney, one of the greatest songwriters in history. And it marks his first vocal collaboration with Stevie Wonder, himself being a legendary singer/songwriter. Not only that, but it was also the first time McCartney had teamed up with a major musical artist outside of his former Beatles’ bandmates. And it actually proved to be one of his biggest US successes, even going back to his days with the Beatles.

Moreover the producer of the track was one George Martin (1926-2016), the musician who served a similar role behind many of The Beatles’ classics.

The recording of this track took place on a Caribbean island called Montserrat. Martin owned a studio there. And it was in that studio the recording took place.

Release Date

This song, being officially released on 29 March 1982, was the lead single from Macca’s third-solo album, “Tug of War”. Its publishers are Parlophone and Columbia. And for the record, said project featured another collaboration with Stevie Wonder entitled “What’s That You’re Doing?”.

Inspiration behind “Ebony and Ivory”

McCartney was inspired to write this tune by an old, 19th century adage pointing based on a similar metaphor of “black notes” and “white notes” creating “harmony” together.  He was enlightened to this saying via a British comedian named Spike Milligan who recited a version of it while Macca was in the midst of putting “Tug of War” together. He wrote this classic in Scotland. Actually he originally conceptualized the tune as one to be recited solely by a Black male singer.

“Ebony and Ivory” meets with Success

Some critics and listeners alike have notably derided this song for being too simplistic.  But that does not change the fact that it was a big hit. Indeed according to Billboard, it is one of the “All-Time Top 100 Songs” in Hot 100 history. And it did in fact score a number 1 on the Hot 100, as it did in the following places:

  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Ireland

Moreover “Ebony and Ivory” achieved Gold certification in New Zealand and received three Grammy nominations in 1982.

Additionally in 2010 Macca was the recipient of the US Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize. It was presented to him in the White House by none other than President Barack Obama himself. And during the ceremony, he was joined by Stevie Wonder for a rendition of “Ebony and Ivory”.

When this track dominated the Hot 100, it made Wonder the first soloist in US history to have a number one hit in three-consecutive decades. 

Multiple Versions

There are actually two different versions, complete with music videos, to this song. For McCartney also recorded a solo rendition of it, which later came out as part of the 2007 reissue of “Tug of War”. And the music video to that particular version, which actually dealt with Black male imprisonment, had Barry Myers as it director. And the other video, which McCartney and Wonder recorded in two separate locations, was helmed by Keith McMillan.

In 1985 Stevie Wonder won an Oscar for his classic “I Just Called to Say I Love You”.  During his acceptance of the Academy Award, he dedicated it to human rights’ champion Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), who was still incarcerated at the time. This resulted in his music, including “Ebony and Ivory”, being banned by South Africa’s Apartheid regime, which was also still in power back in those days.

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