The Temptations – Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)

“The Temptations” were always known for the precision of their dance moves, they had style and flowed on the stage as though they were walking on air. This band was one of Motown’s greatest assets. The harmony of their voices took each note to a whole new level.

This was one of the many psychedelic soul records that Norman Whitfield wrote and produced for the Temptations between the late ’60 and early ’70s. The song tries to make sense of the chaos and disorder pervading the times.

Released in 1970 on their album titled: “The Ultimate Collection,” and peaked at #7 in the UK and #3 in the US.

Lyrically, the song attacked the Vietnam War, Nixon’s government, and drug addiction, making it one of the few protest records that came from Motown.

Bob Babbitt of the Motown house band The Funk Brothers recalled to Mojo magazine February 2009 the recording of this track: “Norman Whitfield gave the call to me the night before (the session). So I got to the studio the next day, there was a whole load of guys in there – Uriel Jones, Pistol Allen, Jack Ashford, Eddie Bongo, Earl Van Dyke on clavinet, Johnny Griffith on organ, Joe Messina, Dennis Coffey.

There was no song, just some musical ideas, some chord patterns, and part of a bassline he played us. Norman knew what he wanted though, that it was going to be funky. He’d been listening to a lot of Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, that’s the sound he wanted to make the Motown sound.

Putting it together was simple, we just did that one song in the three-hour session and we had enough time left over to eat some BLT sandwiches. We didn’t know it was going to be political, because the lyrics weren’t written when the rhythm track was recorded.

I heard the song four days later. It was a Saturday morning, I was running errands and it came on the automobile radio. They got the songs out quick in those days, especially in Detroit.”

Dennis Coffey used a Vox Tone Bender pedal and an Echoplex effect unit on his guitar to get psychedelic delay. Coffey also used the Echoplex on “In The Rain” by The Dramatics, where it is more pronounced.

This was one of the number of classic R&B and gospel songs performed by Whoopi Goldberg and her choir in the 1993 movie, Sister Act 2 Back in the Habit.

A number of artists have covered this tune, including The Neville Brothers, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, and Anthrax. Tina Turner’s version was included on the 1982 LP Music of Quality And Distinction Volume One, a tribute album by the B.E.F, a production team formed by former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh who later became Heaven 17 (with lead singer Glenn Gregory). The album involved other artists covering classic songs, mainly done in their electro-pop style with synthesizers and LinnDrums. Martyn Ware recalled to us the moment where Tina and her manager Rodger Davis first walked into the studio. “She said, ‘Martyn, nice to meet you. Where is the band?’ And I pointed at the Fairlight and I said, ‘It’s there.’ Of course, this was the early days of that stuff. They were blown away, really.”

Tina Turner’s recording of the track opened the album and was also issued as a single reaching the Top 5 in Norway. It proved to be an important song in Turner’s career as it led to Capitol Records signing her and her next single, a Martyn Ware produced cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” became a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

 Song Lyrics –

One, two, one, two, three, four, ow

People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on

Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation

Ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today
Woo, hey, hey

The sale of pills are at an all time high
Young folks walking round with their heads in the sky
The cities ablaze in the summer time

And oh, the beat goes on

Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve everything

And the band played on

So, round and around and around we go
Where the world’s headed, nobody knows

Oh, great googa-looga, can’t you hear me talking to you
Just a ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today
Woo, hey

Fear in the air, tension everywhere
Unemployment rising fast, the Beatles new record’s a gas

And the only safe place to live is on an Indian reservation

And the band played on

Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors
Mod clothes in demand, population out of hand, suicide, too many bills
Hippies moving to the hills, people all over the world are shouting, end the war

And the band played on

Great googa-looga, can’t you hear me talking to you
Sayin’ ball of confusion
That’s what the world is today, hey, hey

Let me hear ya, let me hear ya, let me hear ya
Sayin’, ball of confusion
That’s what the world is today, hey, hey
Let me hear ya, let me hear ya, let me hear ya, let me hear ya, let me hear ya
Ball of confusion.

Written by: Norman Whitfield


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21 thoughts on “The Temptations – Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)

  1. I loved all of the psychedelic soul that Motown released in the 70s…this one and Papa Was A Rolling Stone were my favorites of that period.

    1. I loved that sound too. Psychedelic music is still one of my favorites. Music that takes you to a whole other level without the usage of any type of drugs, is some good stuff. I am so grateful to have grown up in the era of great music.

      I hope you and your family are staying healthy, safe, and warm. It is freezing cold here in the DFW Metroplex with some mist falling which is freezing. I did my grocery shopping yesterday before logging in to work, so I am stocked up and don’t have to worry about getting out in the weather.

      1. I like soul psychedelic and also the 60s psychedelic…all of it. Anything wierd and tuneful…I’m there!

        I hope you all are staying safe also! We are getting freezing rain today so I’m staying at home to work.

        1. I am right there with you. I love the Soul Psychedelic and the 60s as well. Cream, Tommy James and the Shondells,
          Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Garry Shider, Eddie Hazel, Eric Clapton, Bernie Worrell, Earth, Wind & Fire & Rick James were just crazy awesome with mixing that jazz, blues & rock together to make a sound that would blow you away. I love the band Living Colour as well. I thought they might possibly fit into the Psychedelic genre. I know they are heavy metal too, which I love as well.

          I saw on the weather channel that there was bad weather up your way. We have been receiving our fare share too. We haven’t had snow that has been sticking, but the ice has been pretty bad. I don’t know if you saw on the news about the 100 car pile-up this morning on I35 in Fort Worth, that killed 6 people? Those poor people were driving way too fast and when they came upon the other vehicles that were already involved in the accident, they couldn’t stop it was too late. That happened around 6 AM CST.
          I thank the Lord every day that we are still working from home, but also pray every day for all of those who commute back and forth to work. Stay safe and warm!

          1. Oh geez no I didn’t see the 100 car pile up that is terrible. Ice…there is no way to drive on it. It is better today here…the freezing rain stopped and it’s better out there.

            You do have a wide music taste! That is great!

            1. The death toll has climbed to 6 and the number of vehicles involved is at 133 as of today. It was a day many won’t ever forget. No, there is no way to drive on that type of stuff, and the best thing to do is stay at home. If one can work from home, that’s even better, but if not, then call in. Nothing is worth putting your life in jeapardy.

              I have always felt blessed to have grown up listening to a wide variety of music and to not have been subjected to only one genre of music and not know anything about the other great music and bands that existed. Music can be therapeutic, depending on the lyrics and music.

          1. Odd question lol I know…I am going to feature a few episodes…I wonder how many people like it…I love it…and yea I like some Night Gallery also…

            1. I think you would get a great response from people. That’s a show that takes you back to a time when you could sit as a family in front of the television and watch good shows and not worry about what was going to pop up in front of the children. The thought and imagination put into writing, creating the costumes, and frightening charactors for Twilight Zone was so outstanding. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be something everyone would enjoy.

              1. Sorry I nodded off. I’m going to give it a shot Saturday.
                You are telling the truth about more of a family show…it was scary but not too scary and nothing that kids couldn’t see…I hope so

                1. I can’t wait to see what you put together.

                  I finally found a channel that shows Night Gallery, ( and I have been catching up on the shows that I never had the opportunity to see as well as the ones I saw and fell in love with. Rod Serling was a genius who was so selfless and gave others the platform to showcase their talents and move forward with their dreams. Steven Speilberg directed one or two of the shows. Rod left us way too soon!

                  1. I cheat a bit. I work in IT as you know and we share our media…I have all of TZ and Night Gallery. It is my favorite show. I’m starting with my 10th favorite tomorrow…

                    Rod did leave too quick…I read his daughters book and then emailed her…she was really nice and emailed me back.

                    1. That’s just one of the beauty’s of working in IT.

                      That is too cool that his daughter emailed you back. I can imagine she being moved by your email as well as the others who emailed and / or wrote letters. That was kind of her to email back.

                    2. I never expected any email back from her. It was a very thoughtful book and no slander against her dad…he was a really good guy.

                      He hated biogtry and one tv show in general…Hogan’s Heroes…he was in WWII and he didn’t like the Nazi’s being portrayed as lovable losers or bumbling idiots…I never thought about it beause I liked the show but I can see where he was coming from.