The Paul McCartney Project

Ebony And Ivory

Written by Paul McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the Tug Of War Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1982
Timeline This song has been written (or started being written) in 1980 (Paul McCartney was 38 years old)

Related sessions

This song has been recorded during the following studio sessions


Home recordings

August 1980








Remixing "Tug Of War" album

March 2nd to March 31st, 2015

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Song facts

They didn’t like ‘Ebony and Ivory’, the critics. I can see what they’re talking about […] But for Christ’s sake it was number one, you know? It did something. You find yourself justifying your successes. It’s a funny state of affairs.

Paul McCartney in “Conversations With McCartney“, by Paul Du Noyer

From Wikipedia:

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 tackles issues of racial equality, the song reached number one on both the UK and the U.S. charts. 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 Magazine ranked the song as the 69th biggest hit of all-time on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Background

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!”. The figure of speech is much older. It was popularised 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.

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).

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.

Chart rankings

“Ebony and Ivory” spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the fourth-biggest hit of 1982. 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. 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.

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

Critical reception

The song was derided as “saccharine” and was later named as the tenth worst song of all time by Blender magazine. In October 2007, it was named the worst duet in history by BBC 6 Music listeners.

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.

“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.” […]

Paul McCartney in "Conversations With McCartney", by Paul Du Noyer:

They didn’t like ‘Ebony and Ivory’, the critics. I can see what they’re talking about, but I think it was good. A black sax player, Ernie Watts, who plays for the Stones, he thanked me in LA: ‘Hey Paul, that song? I’ve got a white girlfriend, it really helped.’ Now, why am I gonna listen to some critics after that? I don’t care if they don’t like it, it sold OK. I got to sing with Stevie.

It wasn’t the greatest coming together of me and Stevie. Cos he’s a giant, and I can be fairly gigantic, and the two of us could have been mega giants… But for Christ’s sake it was number one, you know? It did something. You find yourself justifying your successes. It’s a funny state of affairs.

There had been criticisms of naivety and simplicity in Paul’s material, with critics particularly singling out “Ebony and Ivory.” What was his reaction to those critics? “Well. it would worry me if I wasn’t singing about peace and racial harmony. I mean, if I was doing a simplistic approach for catching mice, or something that didn’t matter, but it really matters! It’s like what’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding? I mean, it’s still that one The Government now have got very anti-CND. I don’t think you shouldn’t have defence, but you really should be aiming for peace. The thing with the Falklands, there’s a kind of military resurgence, and with the riots and stuff, there was some kind of racist resurgence… I’ve just got to do those songs, whether they’re too simple or not. But the opposite is, though, I have letters from people who say that ‘Ebony and Ivory’ is good. It brought me and my friend together, or something… Some people need you to say black and white should live together, brother. And if you can’t be more detailed, then that’s OK. Not everything has to be very detailed and a great thesis. I’m not writing a thesis here; these are hooks for racial harmony. I’m not trying to say that they’re anything more than ditties… The ditty’s alright, it’s a way you kind of keep your self-respect. People accuse me of being dishonest, or whatever. I still think there are fans out there who don’t think that. I certainly never thought it until the critics did. I thought, this is great, it’s a nice song, me and Stevie, lovely, and he’s on the backing, lovely harmonies and all that. Later, when people said to me it’s too simplistic, I said well maybe it is. It never occurred to me.

From Club Sandwich N° 31, 1983

I wanted a black feller and me as the white feller – I thought that was the way it ought to be done: it seemed obvious. I thought if I could have anyone it would be Stevie Wonder, so I got a demo to him and said ‘I’d love you to be the other singer on it’ and Stevie sent a message back saying sure, he liked it and he might do it. So I said, we’re going to Montserrat and it’d be great if we could team up there. “We got to Montserrat and my manager came in a bit pasty-faced and said ‘I don’t think Stevie’s coming’. Luckily he was still on the phone, so I leapt to the phone: ‘Stevie, you’ve gotta come down!’ ‘Well, I’ve got some stuff up here to do’ (this elusive album he was always doing). But he’s a lovely guy, so I said ‘Come on, you’ve gotta come down. You haven’t had a holiday and it’s fantastic here: swimming, clear skies – it’s gorgeous.’ So he came and we made the track and that was great.

Paul McCartney, from Club Sandwich N°47/48, Spring 1988

Last updated on April 12, 2020

Lyrics

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?

We all know that people are the same wherever you go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive
Together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?

Ebony, ivory, living in perfect harmony
Ebony, ivory

We all know that people are the same wherever you go
There is good and bad, in everyone
We learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive
Together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we

Side by side on my piano keyboard
Oh Lord, why don't we

Ebony, ivory, living in perfect harmony…

Officially appears on


Tug Of War

Official album • Released in 1982

3:43 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


Ebony And Ivory / Rainclouds

7" Single • Released in 1982

3:43 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


Ebony And Ivory / Rainclouds

12" Single • Released in 1982

3:43 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


Ebony And Ivory / Rainclouds

12" Single • Released in 1982

3:41 • Studio versionB • Solo version

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey


A sample from "Tug Of War"

12" Single • Released in 1982

3:41 • Studio version


All The Best! (UK version)

Official album • Released in 1987

3:43 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


All The Best! (US version)

Official album • Released in 1987

3:43 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


All The Best! (Box Set)

Official album • Released in 1987

3:41 • Studio version


Tripping The Live Fantastic

Official live • Released in 1990

4:01 • LiveL1

Performed by :
Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyRobbie McIntoshHamish StuartPaul WickensChris Whitten
Paul McCartney :
Producer
Eddie Klein :
Assistant engineer
Matt Butler :
Assistant engineer
Peter Henderson :
Producer
Bob Clearmountain :
Mixing engineer, Producer
Jeff Cohen :
Recording engineer
Geoff Foster :
Assistant engineer
Scott Hull :
Assistant engineer
George Cowan :
Assistant engineer
Paul Rushbrook :
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Rotterdam, Netherlands on Nov 08, 1989


Tug Of War (1993)

Official album • Released in 1993

3:43 • Studio versionA1993 • 1993 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Arrangement, Backing vocals, Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Piano, Synthesizers, Vocals, Vocoder
Stevie Wonder :
Backing vocals, Drums, Electric piano, Percussion, Synthesizers, Vocals
George Martin :
Arrangement, Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Jon Jacobs :
Assistant mixing engineer, Assistant recording engineer
Mike Stavrou :
Assistant recording engineer

Session Recording:
Feb 28, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, Montserrat

Session Overdubs:
Mar 30, 1981
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK

Session Overdubs:
October 1981
Studio :
Strawberry Studios South, Dorkins, Surrey

Session Mixing:
Jan 19, 1982
Studio :
AIR Studios, London, UK


Bootlegs


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol.15

Unofficial album

1:43 • Demo

Session Recording & mixing:
August 1980
Studio :
Rude Studio, Campbeltown, Scotland


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol.17

Unofficial album

5:02 • Rehearsal

Session Recording:
August 1980
Studio :
Pugin Hall, Tenterden, Kent, UK


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol.17

Unofficial album

3:27 • Rehearsal

Session Recording:
August 1980
Studio :
Pugin Hall, Tenterden, Kent, UK


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol.17

Unofficial album

3:52 • Studio version


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol.17

Unofficial album

3:48 • Studio version


Live performances

“Ebony And Ivory” has been played in 79 concerts and 11 soundchecks.

Latest concerts where has been played


The Gershwin Award Concert

Jun 02, 2010 • USA • Washington • White House







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paul mccartney 3 years ago

Boycott Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder the history of the song ebony and ivory that was written by a poor homeless man who has very little income .call 212 246 5881 boycott paul mccartney


Albert werden. 3 years ago

Song lyrics not by paul mccartney or stevie wonder.the history books are wrong. albundyhobo@yahoo.com


The PaulMcCartney Project 3 years ago

Both the way your comments are written looks a bit spammy - sorry if I'm wrong. Keen to get facts on what you say. Thanks for your contribution.


Duets: Singing down the walls of racism – Indie News 7 days ago

[…] it was bashed by cynical critics as being saccharine and unrealistic, that didn’t stop the listening public from buying enough records to make it […]