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Ebony and Ivory

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Title: Ebony and Ivory  
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Subject: The Paul McCartney World Tour, Stevie Wonder, Tug of War (Paul McCartney album), List of Billboard Hot 100 chart achievements and milestones, List of Paul McCartney musical contributions and appearances
Collection: 1982 Singles, Billboard Adult Contemporary Number-One Singles, Billboard Hot 100 Number-One Singles, Columbia Records Singles, European Hot 100 Singles Number-One Singles, Music Published by Mpl Music Publishing, Number-One Singles in Germany, Number-One Singles in Norway, Oricon International Singles Chart Number-One Singles, Parlophone Singles, Paul McCartney Songs, Rpm Top Singles Number-One Singles, Song Recordings Produced by George Martin, Songs Against Racism and Xenophobia, Songs Written by Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder Songs, Uk Singles Chart Number-One Singles, Vocal Duets
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Ebony and Ivory

"Ebony and Ivory"
Single by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
from the album Tug of War
B-side "Rainclouds"
Released March 29, 1982
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1981
Genre Pop/R&B
Length 3:42
Label Parlophone/EMI (UK)
Columbia (U.S.)
Writer(s) Paul McCartney
Producer(s) George Martin
Paul McCartney singles chronology
"Temporary Secretary"
"Ebony and Ivory"
"Take It Away"
Stevie Wonder singles chronology
"Do I Do"
"Ebony and Ivory"
"Ribbon in the Sky"

"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. The song reached number one on both the UK and the U.S. charts.[1][2] 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.[3]


  • Background 1
  • Chart rankings 2
  • Critical reception 3
  • Track listings 4
  • Personnel 5
  • Chart positions 6
    • All-time charts 6.1
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8


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!".[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

Chart rankings

"Ebony and Ivory" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the fourth-biggest hit of 1982.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

In 2008, the song was ranked at #59 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.[10] In 2013, it was ranked #69 on the Billboard list of the Hot 100 songs of all-time.[3]

Critical reception

Following the song's huge chart success, it was derided as "saccharine" and was later named as the tenth worst song of all time by Blender magazine.[11] On October 2007, it was named the worst duet in history by BBC 6 Music listeners.[12]

However, the song's title was picked up by a journalist reporting on two stroke victims — one black, one white — who played a duo, one hand each.[13]

This song has been parodied in many television shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Father Ted, Everybody Hates Chris, Arrested Development, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (and its successor The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), and Saturday Night Live, as well as movies such as Undercover Brother and Guess Who. 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.[14]

"Ebony and Ivory" was banned for a while 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 (music by the group for which he is well known, The Beatles, was also banned in South Africa for a while; it was under similar circumstances). The official reason for the song's ban was because McCartney's duet partner, Stevie Wonder, accepted his 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song "in the name of Nelson Mandela."[15][16] An abbreviated version of the song was performed on an episode of Diff'rent Strokes by Todd Bridges, Dana Plato and Janet Jackson playing their characters.

Track listings

7" single (R 6054)
  1. "Ebony and Ivory" - 3:41
    • With additional vocals by Stevie Wonder
  2. "Rainclouds" - 3:47
12" single (12R 6054)
  1. "Ebony and Ivory" - 3:41
    • With additional vocals by Stevie Wonder
  2. "Rainclouds" - 3:47
  3. "Ebony and Ivory" (Solo Version) - 3:41


Chart positions

Chart (1982) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report 2
Austrian Singles Chart[17] 3
Canadian CBC Top Singles[18] 1
German Media Control Singles Chart 1
Irish Singles Chart 1
Japanese Oricon Singles Chart[19] 26
Japanese Oricon International Chart[20] 1
Norwegian VG-lista Singles Chart[17] 1
Spanish AFYVE Singles Chart[21] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[22] 2
Swiss Singles Chart[17] 2
UK Singles Chart[23] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[24] 1
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary[24] 1

All-time charts

Chart Position
US Billboard Hot 100[3] 69

See also

Preceded by
"My Camera Never Lies" by Bucks Fizz
UK number-one Single
18 April 1982 – 8 May 1982 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"A Little Peace" by Nicole
Preceded by
"Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis
Billboard Hot 100 number one single
May 15, 1982 – June 26, 1982 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Don't You Want Me" by The Human League
Preceded by
"Don't You Want Me" by The Human League
Canadian "RPM" Singles Chart number-one single
May 22, 1982 – June 19, 1982 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"I've Never Been to Me" by Charlene


  1. ^ "Paul McCartney Charts and Awards".  
  2. ^ "Official Charts: Paul McCartney". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-10-13. 
  3. ^ a b c Bronson, Fred (2 August 2012). "Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Martin, George (editor): Making Music, page 62. Pan Books, 1983. ISBN 0-330-26945-3
  5. ^ 'Master and mistress, and neighbors, and negroes assemble, and black and white are seen strung along the great table, like the keys of a piano, and, like the aforesaid instrument, the black keys make fully as much noise as the white; all mingle for a while in the utmost harmony and good feeling....' Rev C F Sturgis, 'Duties of Christian Masters to their Slaves' (1849) quoted in Breedon, James O (editor), Advice among Masters: The Ideal in Slave Management in the Old South (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), page 262.
  6. ^ "Ebony and Ivory". JPGR. 2000. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  7. ^ Year-End Hot 100 Singles - 1982Billboard
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel, "Top Pop Singles: 1955–2006," 2007.
  9. ^ "American Top 40 replay". 1982-05-22. 
  10. ^ Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (60-51)"Billboard"The . Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  11. ^ "Run for Your Life! It’s the 50 Worst Songs Ever!". Blender. 
  12. ^ "Ebony and Ivory voted worst duet". BBC News. 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  13. ^ Bard Lindeman. "Musicians and victims of strokes find a way to play some very inspiring Chopin" Park City Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky (May 9, 1988) page 7. Retrieved 2010-02-18
  14. ^ PSYCH Sing-Along "Ebony & Ivory" on YouTube
  15. ^ "Stevie Wonder Music Banned in South Africa". The New York Times. 27 March 1985. Retrieved 26 May 2008. 
  16. ^ "Mandela: South Africa's Star Attractor". The Washington Post. 1998-07-25. Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  17. ^ a b c "Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder - Ebony & Ivory". /  
  18. ^ Lwin, Nanda (2000). Top 40 Hits: The Essential Chart Guide.
  19. ^ "Paul McCartney Japanese Singles Chart listings".  
  20. ^ "Japan #1 IMPORT DISKS". Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  21. ^ "Sólo éxitos: año a año : 1959-2002". Salaverri, Fernando. Iberautor Promociones Culturales. Retrieved 2015-05-11. 
  22. ^ "Paul McCartney - Ebony & Ivory". Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  23. ^ "Chart Stats - Paul McCartney And Stevie Wonder - Ebony And Ivory". BPI. Archived from the original on 2012-07-09. Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  24. ^ a b "Tug of War > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles".  
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