Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)
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|"Ball of Confusion
(That's What the World is Today)"
|Single by The Temptations|
|from the album Greatest Hits II|
|Released||May 7, 1970|
|Recorded||Hitsville USA (Studio A); April 12 and April 14, 1970|
|The Temptations singles chronology|
|"Ball of Confusion"|
|Single by Tina Turner|
|from the album B.E.F.: Music of Quality And Distinction Volume One|
|B-side||"Ball of Confusion"
|Tina Turner singles chronology|
|"Ball of Confusion"|
|Single by Love and Rockets|
|B-side||"Inside the Outside"|
|Format||7 and 12" vinyl|
|Love and Rockets singles chronology|
Like "Psychedelic Shack" before it, "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", the Temptations sing, "where the world's headed/nobody knows." The end of each section of the Temptations' lists of woes is punctuated by bass singer Melvin Franklin's line, "And the band played on."
"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.
- Lead vocals by Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Melvin Franklin
- Background vocals by Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams
- Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
- Produced by Norman Whitfield
- Instrumentation by The Funk Brothers
Tina Turner version
The song "Ball of Confusion" plays an important part in the career of Tina Turner - if only indirectly. Her recording of the track was included on 1982 album Music of Quality And Distinction Volume One, a tribute by the B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) featuring members of the New Romantic band Heaven 17 and a number of guest vocalists covering 1960s and 1970s hits, among them Sandie Shaw, Paul Jones, Billy Mackenzie, Paula Yates and Gary Glitter.
Turner's synth-driven interpretation of "Ball of Confusion" opened the album and was also issued as a single - and in fact a Top 5 hit in Norway - which led to Capitol Records signing Turner and Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh recording another 1970s cover with her in late 1983. The track was Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" which became a surprise hit single on both sides of the Atlantic and the starting point of Turner's comeback, with the following album Private Dancer going multiplatinum in 1984.
Turner recorded several other cover versions with the Heaven 17/B.E.F. team, including David Bowie's "1984" (included on Private Dancer), Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" (included on Music of Quality And Distinction Volume Two), Cooke's "Having A Party" and Al Green's "Take Me To The River".
When the album Music of Quality And Distinction Volume One was re-released on CD in the early 1990s it included an updated remix of Turner's "Ball of Confusion". This version was later included on the rarities disc of her 1994-CD box set The Collected Recordings - Sixties to Nineties.
Versions and mixes
- Album Version/7" Mix - 3:20
- 7" Instrumental - 3:20
- 1991 B.E.F. Remix - 4:11
"Ball of Confusion" is among the Temptations' most covered songs, with versions by various artists including:
- 1970s Motown group The Undisputed Truth, which released their own version as a single.
- Love and Rockets, appearing on both the remastered and reissued versions of their 1985 album Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven and their 1986 album Express.
- Bouncing Souls 1991 was the first track on their first EP entitled "Ugly Bill"
- Duran Duran on their 1995 covers album Thank You.
- American thrash metal band Anthrax on their 1999 album Return of the Killer A's.
- The Neville Brothers on their 2004 album Walkin' In The Shadow Of Life.
- Widespread Panic performed the song live in concerts and included a recording on their 2004 live album Jackassolantern.
- Tesla on their 2007 album Real to Reel.
- Billboard Singer/Songwriter Paul Manchin covered the song in 2010.
The bass line was sampled by Eazy E on his song "Eazy Duz It" during the intro section.
Appearances in other media
- In the 1998 NBC miniseries The Temptations, dueling performances of "Ball of Confusion" were used to depict the period during which The Temptations were forced to compete with the splinter group "Ruffin, Kendricks & Edwards: Former Leads of the Temptations". (Edwards' predecessor, David Ruffin, left the group in 1968, two years before this song was recorded.)
- The song was famously covered by Whoopi Goldberg, Mary Wickes, Kathy Najimy, and other actresses in the 1993 film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
- HBO used the song as the basis of a televised promo for the fourth season of its drama The Wire.
- The song was featured in the 2002 series Greg the Bunny in the episode 'Greg Gets Puppish'
- The song was played in the intro of the 2008 satire comedy film Tropic Thunder.
- Portions of the song were used for promoting the ABC television crime drama series Detroit 1-8-7. Along with this song, the show uses other Motown songs as the setting takes place in Detroit, Michigan.
- The music of the song was used as the theme music for local TV broadcasts of the American Basketball Association New York Nets c. 1974 – 1976. Games were carried on Channel 9 (WWOR-TV) in the New York City market.
- The song was used in an episode of The Bernie Mac Show.
- The song was used in the Everybody Hates Chris series finale "Everybody Hates the G.E.D.", when Chris runs through a shootout to make it to school on time, only to be late again.