Temptations – Ball of Confusion ——— Songs that reference The Beatles

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

This song has an edge to it that Motown songs lack at times. 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 and still relevant today. Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote the song.

Motown wasn’t known to make a lot of protest records but this one contained lyrics about Nixon’s influence, Vietnam, and drug addiction.

This song peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100 in 1970. The Temptations had 53 songs in the top 100, 15 top ten hits and 4 number 1’s. This song was on their Greatest Hits II album.

From Songfacts

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.

Ball Of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)

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

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Temptations – Ball of Confusion ——— Songs that reference The Beatles”

  1. This song is a timeless anthem. The things they sing about continue. Thanks for refreshing my memory on it as it is excellent — lyrics, vocals, beat, horns, and arrangement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Looking for the Beatles connection has helped me find a few different ones that I would not have thought of before. This is a very good one.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There was a book out on the Temptations maybe 20 years ago- a good read but what a tragic band- even worse than the Ramones as far as early deaths etc. Great group. Love the line on The Beatles from that song …. Of course The Temptations brought on a lot of their own tragedy where The Ramones didn’t- as far as the early deaths.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. There is a fairly recent book on them -2010 Ain’t Too Proud To Beg- The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of The Temptations by Mark Ribowsky… i don’t think that is the one I read- the one I read was back in the 90’s at least….

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes there are so many. We agree on THE one so far. The other one that really impressed me was the Beatles 66 you recommended. Both books about George Martin also.

        I’ll be looking forward to it if you do it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Forgot there was a Beatles reference in there. Good song from a great band- definitely one of Motown’ s best. Love & Rockets do a great cover of it though I think they changed lyrics in verse w/Beatles

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll give that a listen…. well I did… they made it into a rock song… sounds good Dave…I had a friend was was a big fan of them…I like Motown also… at first they were more pop which is great but as the 70s came in they got a little more edge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Love & Rockets were excellent, I think they never got their due (despite their one, uncharacteristic but groovy hit ‘So Alive’). Sound wise to me they were a similar category to The Cult… somewhere between grunge and psychedelia… but a bit better, to my ears.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it can apply today. Joel was a huge Temptations fan from what i’ve read.

      I like the rawness of this..more raw than some other Motown


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