Classics: The Temptations – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today) (Gordy)
More than 40 years have gone since the release of ‘Ball Of Confusion’ and its lyrics tragically still sound so up-to-date. As if humanity (each of us a a matter of fact) hadn’t learnt from the past. Reproducing the same mistakes on and on. ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’… That’s how it was yesterday. With God only knowing if ever it won’t be as tomorrow!
More of a Doo-Wop group, The Temptations jumped on a socially / politically aware repertoire when they started working with producer Norman Whitfield in the early 70’s. Their 1973 album – ‘Masterpiece’ – standing as a manifesto in the genre. With gems such as ‘Law Of The Land’ or ‘Plastic Man’ among others. They most likely came as so to say follow-ups to the explicit ‘Ball Of Confusion’, in the same vein lyrically speaking. A cut that saw the light 3 years before as a non-album single.
Opening itself on a Psychedelic Rock guitar over a blowing bassline, it opened a new era for the band. “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.” As many words seeming like déjà vu from a decade to another. Although they date from 1970 which makes them so obviously remarkable. With the late Melvin Franklin punctuating each chapter with his memorable bass toned ad-libs: “And the band played on.”
One hardly gets anything more realistic than this…
– From Detroit, MI, the group went thru different names, beginning with The Primes and lastly The Voicemasters by the beginning of the sixties. This before turning themselves into The Temptations and sign a record deal with Motown in 1962. With Otis Williams, Elbridge ‘Al’ Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams standing as the original members of the band. And other luminaries such as David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and Damon Harris joinin’ along with time. Then, last not not least, Ron Tyson and G.C. Cameron to name a few.
The Temptations released their debut-single – ‘Check Yourself’ – back in 1961 on Motown subsidiary label Miracles Records. Eventually scoring their first #1 US R&B hit in 1964 with ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’. Then toppin’ the Billboard US Hot 100 the same year with ‘My Girl’. Meanwhile opening an impressive series of hits during the following years. From ‘Don’t Look Back’ to ‘Get Ready’, ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ and ‘You’re My Everything’. But also ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘I Second That Emotion’. This in addition to ‘Psychedelic Shack’, ‘Ball Of Confusion’, ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Masterpiece’. Not to mention ‘Standing On The Top’ along with Rick James or ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ among others.
Like Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and / or The Commodores, The Temptations pretty much went thru two major periods. The first as a Doo-Wop/Soul band with production work courtesy of Smokey Robinson. And the second seeing them turning themselves into Psychedelic Soul pioneers along with producer Norman Whitfield. This resulting in extra gems such as ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’…
– Contemporary Music may not have become what it is without Norman Whitfield‘s contribution. As a matter of fact, he might pretty well be the first producer ever who established a sound / an approach as a trademark…
Hailing from Harlem, NY, he and his family relocated to Detroit where he started working with Motown’s head Berry Gordy. Aged 19, he progressively established himself as in charge of the quality control department. A position which allowed him to determine which songs would or would not be released, prior to join the label’s in-house songwriting staff.
He would find his niche in the production though. When he came to collaborate with Marvin Gaye on the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ back in 1968. But even more when he took over Smokey Robinson‘s role as the main producer for The Temptations 2 years before.
From then on, he took the group to a brand new dimension. What he did was changing the nature of the songs, from love matters to the social issues of the time, such as war, poverty and politics. But also experimenting sound effects and production techniques. Eventually getting the group into a darker infectious sound blending psychedelic Rock and Funk. From this liaison which lasted until 1975, came gems such as ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ back in 1966. But also ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’. Not to mention the memorable ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’…
Whitfield parted ways with The Temptations coz’ they disliked how he put more emphasis on the instrumentation instead of their vocals. And also because they wished he wrote more romantic ballads for them. This therefore led him to leave Motown and launch his own Whitfield Records imprint. From then, he convinced The Undisputed Truth and Jr. Walker. Respectively producing ‘You + Me = Love’ and ‘Back Street Boogie’ from them. Then Rose Royce who were Edwin Starr‘s backing band while at Motown.
He most likely scored his biggest success ever with ‘Car Wash’ for the latter. A cut which won Whitfield a 1977 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album. He soon after also composed the theme song for the 1977 motion picture ‘Which Way Is Up?’, performed by Stargard.
Among his biggest productions as well, the mellow ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by Rose Royce. And also ‘Do Your Dance’ and ‘It Makes You Feel Like Dancing’. Not to mention ‘Is It Love You’re after’. A jam which British producer Mark Moore sampled on ‘Theme From S-Express’ back in 1988.
Whifield underwent treatment for diabetes and other ailments at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in 2008. He fell into a coma, briefly improved, but sadly succumbed to diabetic complications on Sept. 16, 2008, aged 68.