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#ThrowbackThursday: The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)”

Image via Motown Records

By Matt Clizbe

As the music world pauses to make sense of Kanye West’s politically layered rant on TMZ yesterday, which resulted a litany of confused reactions from African American musicians, activists and leaders across the music world, we thought we’d use this week’s #TBT to highlight the group that first personified the world as the “ball of confusion” that it all to often feels like today, The Temptations. Motown Records icons The Temptations are themselves in the news for this week’s release of All The Time, their first new studio album in eight years.  This obviously modernized version of R&B leaders are trying to keep up with  the times. All The Time features covers of contemporary hits from the likes of Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Maxwell, Ed Sheeran, Michael Jackson, and The Weeknd, as well as three new, original Temptations songs.  All of which are done in the unmistakable harmony that any true fan will recognize as their signature.

54 years ago, The Temptations released their first Motown album, 1964’s Meet The Temptations. As of 2017, Billboard lauded them as the Number One R&B Artist of All Time. The Temptations rose to the top of the charts with 16 Number One R&B albums and 43 Top Ten R&B hit songs across four decades, including 14 Number One singles. Their hits “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and “Get Ready” are timeless, iconic classics, while the group’s later forays into funk and psychedelia, including “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rollin‘ Stone,” are just as influential. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and were the subject of a two-part, emmy award winning scripted miniseries that was broadcast by NBC in 1998.

However, thanks in part to the group’s well known history with a member changing line ups, the politically driven “Ball Of Confusion” was released in May of 1970 as the anchor single for their second Greatest Hits compilation, Greatest Hits II.  As the name indicates, it was the second of a two volume package, which celebrated all of the group’s landmark hits between 1966-1970, with volume 2 serving as the final collection of songs lead by the group’s famously fired lead singer David Ruffin.  Even casual fans are likely to recognize David’s voice helming Temptation staples like “My Girl”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “I’m Losing You,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and others. However, following his tense, drug fueled exit from the group in 1967, “Ball Of Confusion”, represented a branding change for the group, that shifted them into the funk and psychedelia that was fueled by The Temp’s 70’s line up with Ruffin’s then replacement, Dennis Edwards.  

Penned by Motown writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” openly reflects on the political upheaval and seismic changes of the 60’s civil rights movement.  Unlike the recent actual confusion provided by TMZ and Mr. West, the well honed messaging of the tune allowed The Temps and their meaningful words to be a melodic symbol of the tumultuous times and political strain when used in the media and listened to by the group’s fans.  

“I’m 76 now,” says founding Temptations member Otis Williams, “Looking back, I never could have imagined where my life has taken me. I’m so proud of what The Temptations have achieved, and I’m grateful for every opportunity we’ve been so fortunate to receive. The music carries me. Together, we lift our voices with love and wonder.”

In the era of #Metoo, #MAGA, the opioid epidemic, and the online Insta-debating that is continually dividing our country, the lyrics are just as relevant today.  This is the kind of perspective and thoughtfulness we wish we got from TMZ and Mr. West.  Recognizing the way the world is today, we wanted to celebrate the storied career of the collective Temptations, and their new 2018 album All The TIme, by recognizing the dignified example of this week’s Throwback Thursday, “Ball Of Confusion (That’s How The World Is Today)”.  Enjoy.


The Temptations

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)”

From: Greatest Hits II

Gordy/Motown Records

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