Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder‘s “Ebony and Ivory” was larger than life, and proved to be the biggest hit of Paul’s solo career.
Released on March 29, 1982, the single hit #1 and spent seven weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Outside of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, it’s the longest-running chart-topper for Paul (tying with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”) It even hit the Top 10 on the R&B charts, a rare feat for a former Beatle.
The song is inspired by racial harmony, equating the colours of piano keys to race relations:
“Ebony and ivory,
Live together in perfect harmony.
Side by side on my piano keyboard,
Oh Lord, why don’t we?”
McCartney wrote the song for his Tug of War album, and knew immediately he wanted it to be a duet.
“I had a song called ‘Ebony and Ivory’ that I’d written, and I wanted to sing it with a black guy,” said McCartney during an April 1982 interview with Bryant Gumbel on NBC’s Today, “and my first thought was Stevie.”
McCartney was a fan of Wonder’s work, having added a Braille message reading “We love ya, baby” on the back cover of his 1973 album Red Rose Speedway.
Wonder loved the song, and according to Fred Bronson quoting the singer when talking to Dick Clark on The National Music Survey: “I listened to the song, and I liked it very much. I felt it was positive for everybody. I won’t say it demanded of people to reflect upon it, but it politely asks the people to reflect upon life in using the terms of music… this melting pot of many different people.”
The pair recorded the vocals on the West Indies island of Montserrat. Longtime Beatles producer George Marin handled the boards, and Issay Hayes provided background vocals. When it came to the music video, conflicting schedules resulted in Paul and Stevie recording their parts during separate shoots. Editing tricks were used to make it seem like they were together in the same room.
The single was certified Gold for sales of 500,000 units, and propelled McCartney’s Tug of War to top the Billboard charts for three weeks–his final album to do so.
The song reached even bigger heights when it was parodied by Saturday Night Live. The clip, featuring Joe Piscopo as Frank Sinatra and Eddie Murphy as Stevie Wonder, goes down as a timeless (and still hilarious!) clip.
Do you love “Ebony and Ivory”? Let us know in the comments below!
Shop Paul McCartney in the MusicVaultz store: