Let’s go back to the ‘80s, that magical time when you could just randomly pair a black artist with a white artist and have a smash hit!
OK, it wasn’t that easy. But “Easy Lover” and “Ebony & Ivory” are two examples of that formula paying major commercial dividends. And while “Easy Lover” stands pretty strongly on its own merit, I suppose I should offer a bit of an explanation on “Ebony & Ivory”’s five-star rating.
I want to say that “Ebony” was the first 45 I ever bought. It was either that or Jeffrey Osborne’s “I Really Don’t Need No Light”. Actually, what I think happened is that I got made fun of for wanting “Ebony & Ivory” so I was shamed into going with the Osborne single. I was 6! And I was also a delicate flower. At any rate, I somehow ended up in possession of both 45s. All to say that “Ebony & Ivory” has a great deal of personal significance, and that significance makes up for the fact that neither Paul nor Stevie brought their “A” game to this song.
As I’m sure you know, “Ebony & Ivory” is sort of the racial tolerance “Kumbaya” of the 1980s. It’s admirable, for sure. And it’s a pleasant song. Actually, it’s more than pleasant. It’s damn catchy. Even if two of the best songwriters of modern times are coasting a little bit here, the fact of the matter is that they were not far removed from their respective creative peaks in 1982, and their (well, Stevie)’s toss offs were still pretty good songs. Plus, he at least tries to put a little bit of stank on it vocally. “Ebony” is also leagues better than Macca’s other superstar collaboration of 1982, and that one was with an artist who was at his creative peak (I’m referring to “The Girl Is Mine” with Michael Jackson, fyi.)
Final rendering: “Ebony & Ivory” is a cheesy song, but it’s very well crafted (enough for four stars) and my personal attachment to it is worth kicking it up a notch.
“Easy Lover” needs no such defense. It’s a certified jam. And I guess because it’s Phil Collins, some folks like it ironically. I don’t have that problem. The ascendant Collins teamed up with Earth, Wind & Fire’s co-lead vocalist for a muscular mix of rock and soul with tougher-than-normal vocals from both singers. It’s a great peanut butter and chocolate type collaboration. It’s also a song I’ve gone to the karaoke well for, multiple times.
I was at a party a couple of weeks ago, and the new boyfriend of a good pal tried to float the argument that not only is “Easy Lover” a bad song, but the worst song ever.
Needless to say; he’s wrong. Very wrong. I mean; musical taste is subjective. But also; he’s wrong.