Ah - Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder; the names alone should send a shiver down the spine. The pedigree of this pair cannot be denied and it will be there for all those who appreciate music to enjoy for as long as their earlier recordings exist. But coming from such radically opposite musical directions and backgrounds, even on paper, the pairing must have raised eyebrows in 1982 and it's telling that 'Ebony and Ivory' is a solo McCartney composition with Wonder's only contribution being his vocal. And it shows. By god it shows.
The idea of using inanimate objects to demonstrate racial harmony is not a new one to the UK charts. In 1971, Greyhound reached number six with 'Black And White', a song that everyone will know even if they've never heard of the artist:
"The ink is black, the page is white
Together we learn to read and write".
Trite it may be, but Greyhound's humorous reggae shuffle presents the imagery in an accessible and appealing way that sticks in the mind after the song has finished. Messer's Wonder and McCartney, however, deliver their 'message' with the studious air of a philosophy lecturer discussing a proposition from Wittgenstein. Lines like
"We all know that people are the same where ever we go
There is good and bad in everyone"
are delivered in a straight, humourless way that suggests they believe these observations are unique to them and the rest of us are fools for not realising it sooner. The sentiment is laudable, but sentiment needn't be sentimental:
"Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh lord, why don't we"?
It all just boils down to a handwringing plea of 'why can't we all just be friends', and this from the man who wrote 'Penny Lane'.
Musically, McCartney is all over this and it's steeped in the minor key, bland synth washes and plodding 'behind the beat' drums that sum up most of his eighties output. There's a ghastly, tuneless bass solo in there too just to emphasise who's in charge here.
It's as professional and as slick as you'd expect, but it's also tedious, completely uninteresting and all rather hollow. Barely even a song, 'Ebony and Ivory' is brief sketch of an idea dressed up and stretched out into a full size oil canvas. The whole thing seems to come to a natural end about ninety seconds in when the ideas clearly run out (the lyrics quoted above are virtually all there is to it), and the second half is almost a straight run through of the same thing again. On that basis, they could have exponentially lengthened the song to prog length, and we should be praise any god you like that they didn't.
The criminal thing about all this of course is that it marks the first time the Wonder ever topped the UK charts. What's more criminal is that with all the drek that he was still to dish out, this wouldn't be McCartney's last.