Recently, the USA Network has been airing promos for the third season of the comedy crime show Psych (a very good show, BTW) featuring the two main characters, Shawn and Gus, performing a parody of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony and Ivory.” The parody is spot-on, down to the over-enunciation of “piano (p’yah-no),” the oversized piano keys and silhouettes of the two hand-clapping.
The clip made me hunt down the original video from 1982, and somehow over 25 years, I’ve grown to hate the song. It was one of my favorites when it stood at the top of the Billboard charts for two months; but at age 13, I also liked Chicago, Styx and most other inoffensive white-bread artists. Looking back now, it represents McCartney near his creative nadir: While the tune and melody itself are rather pleasant, everything else is a mess.
First, the tempo seems plodding; the song can’t decide whether it’s a ballad or a dance number. McCartney aims for the middle of the road – always a safe place for him, but as Mr. Miyagi said in The Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish! just like grape.” The tempo is just – squishy.
Then there are the lyrics. Oh, God. “Ivory” does not rhyme with “harmony.” And “keyboard” with “Oh Lord”? That’s just wrong. Of course, the meaning of the entire song is so apparent and shallow – black keys, white keys, black people, white people, get it?
I’m a huge Paul McCartney fan. I think he’s the greatest living songwriter. But this song represents all that was wrong with him after his stint with the Beatles – safe songs that probably took 30 minutes to write, featuring inane and trite lyrics. Remember, this was the man who wrote such tripe as “With a Little Luck,” “Temporary Secretary” (Another bad rhyme) and would soon curse us with “The Girl is Mine” and possibly the worst song he ever wrote, “Pipes of Peace.”
Stevie Wonder, I’m sad to say, caught whatever possessed McCartney when he wrote the song and two years later gave us “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which rivals “Ebony and Ivory” as one of the worst songs of the 1980s.