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Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder - Ebony and Ivory (1982)

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  • 80's Score80's Score80's Score 80's score: 3.29
  • Find this song on: Music Stack

"Ebony and Ivory" is a song that was released in 1982 as a single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. It was issued on 29 ...

"Ebony and Ivory" is a song that was released in 1982 as a single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. It was issued on 29 March that year as the lead single from McCartney's album Tug of War. Written by McCartney, the song aligns the black and white keys of a piano keyboard with the theme of racial harmony. The single reached number one on both the UK and the US charts and was among the top-selling singles of 1982 in the US. During the apartheid era, the South African Broadcasting Corporation banned the song after Wonder dedicated his 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song to Nelson Mandela.

McCartney and Wonder began recording "Ebony and Ivory" in Montserrat in early 1981. The single marked the first time that McCartney had released a duet with another major artist, and anticipated his 1980s collaborations with Michael Jackson. While a major commercial hit, the song has received derision from music critics who view its message as overly simplistic and sentimental. The track also appears on McCartney's All the Best! compilation (1987) and on the two-disc version of Wonder's The Definitive Collection (2002). In 2013, Billboard ranked it as the 69th biggest hit of all-time on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Critical reception and legacy

Some critics have derided the song as appallingly "saccharine". According to Madinger and Easter, the most common reaction 20 years later was that it marked "the beginning of the end of [McCartney's] artistic credibility". They add that while the song appealed to listeners who would never usually have bought a McCartney record, it "wore out its welcome quickly" and came to be seen as him attempting to stay musically relevant in middle age, particularly as he soon went on to record duets with Michael Jackson.

In 2007, BBC 6 Music listeners voted "Ebony and Ivory" the worst duet in history. Two years later, Blender magazine named it as the tenth worst song of all time. Writing in 2010, biographer Howard Sounes said that while many people consider the song to be "annoyingly simplistic", it contains "the ineluctable power of McCartney's best tunes" and was a "massive hit".

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 criticises 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!").

Part of a phrase from the song's lyrics provided the title for Keyboard, Oh Lord! Why Don't We?, a 2005 album by the 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.

"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 ban was because Wonder accepted his 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song "in the name of Nelson Mandela".

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