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
B-side "It's Summer"
Released May 7, 1970
Format 7" single
Recorded Hitsville USA (Studio A); April 12 and April 14, 1970
Genre Psychedelic soul
Length 4:06
Label Gordy
G 7099
Writer(s) Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
Producer(s) Norman Whitfield
The Temptations singles chronology
"Psychedelic Shack"
"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)"
"Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)"
UK single cover
"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"
Released 1982
Format 7"
Recorded 1982
Genre Pop/R&B
Length 3:50
Label Virgin
Writer(s) Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
Producer(s) Martyn Ware
Tina Turner singles chronology
"Music Keeps Me Dancin'"
"Ball of Confusion"
"Let's Stay Together"
"Ball of Confusion"
Single by Love and Rockets
B-side "Inside the Outside"
Released 1985
Format 7 and 12" vinyl
Genre Alternative rock
Label Beggars Banquet
Love and Rockets singles chronology
"If There's a Heaven Above"
"Ball of Confusion"
"Kundalini Express"

"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" is a 1970 hit single for The Temptations. It was released on the Gordy (Motown) label, and written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

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.

The song was used to anchor the 1970 Greatest Hits II LP. The song reached #3 on the US pop charts and #2 on the US R&B charts. Billboard ranked the record as the No. 24 song of 1970.[1]


Tina Turner version[edit]

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[edit]

  • Album Version/7" Mix - 3:20
  • 7" Instrumental - 3:20
  • 1991 B.E.F. Remix - 4:11


Chart Peak
Norway 5[2]

Other versions[edit]

"Ball of Confusion" is among the Temptations' most covered songs, with versions by various artists including:


The Undisputed Truth version was also sampled on UNKLE's Never, Never, Land album in the song "Eye for an Eye".

The bass line was sampled by Eazy E on his song "Eazy Duz It" during the intro section.

Appearances in other media[edit]

  • 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.


  1. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970
  2. ^ "Song Artist Tina Turner". Retrieved 4 February 2012.