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‘Ball of Confusion’ by the Temptations – Classic Hit or Miss

“Ball of Confusion” delves head-on into psychedelia, this time with a strong political message. The lyrics list a multitude of problems that were tearing apart the United States in 1970: the Vietnam War, segregation, white flight, drug abuse, crooked politicians, and more. “Round and around and around we go”.

“Ball of Confusion’s” lyrics are delivered over an up-tempo instrumental track with two drum tracks (one for each stereo channel), multitracked wah-wah guitars, and an ominous bassline by Funk Brother Bob Babbitt that opens the song, as well as a harmonica solo played by fellow Motown act Stevie Wonder. Norman Whitfield’s dramatic count-in, always recorded at the very start of a recording for synching purposes only, was left in the mix for this record.

Despite its strong political themes, the record consciously avoids implying a definitive point-of-view or a defiant stance. This is because the Temptations song “War”, which Norman Whitfield intended as a spring 1970 single release, was not released due to Motown’s concern the song’s forward message could alienate more conservative listeners. Whitfield took “War” and reworked it as a single for Gordy solo artist Edwin Starr (for whom it became a #1 hit), while he and lyricist Barrett Strong wrote the more subtle “Ball of Confusion” for the Temptations.

When they first saw the sheet music for the song, The Temptations didn’t think they would be able to pull off the rapid-fire delivery required for the song. Lead singer Dennis Edwards had the quickest tongue in the group, and was assigned to deliver the more difficult lines in the song. Eddie Kendricks was given a rare chance to sing in a tenor voice for his verses.

The song was used to anchor the 1970 Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 LP. The song reached #3 on the US pop charts and #2 on the US R&B charts. [SOURCE]

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