Friday, April 21, 2017

70s Motown: Ball of Confusion

The Temptations: Ball of Confusion


This one barely fits our theme, having been released in 1970. For the Temptations at least, the classic Motown sound of the 1960s was already a thing of the past. Musically, this one presented a powerful mix of funk and rock, a combination that would prove to be a fruitful mix later for George Clinton with his groups Parliament and Funkadelic, and even later for Prince. But here we see that Motown was there first. During the decade of the 70s, Motown would gradually lose their musical leadership role, becoming followers into the land of disco by the end of the decade. But, in 1970, the Temptations got Ball of Confusion onto transistor radios throughout the land. That is how I first heard this one when it became a hit. Probably its lyric of social relevance would never have made it onto AM radio had it not been the Temptations. They were already AM radio staples for their work to that point, so pop chart fans wanted to hear their new one. The new song was part of a trend of socially relevant songs of the period, but most were by white artists, and very few explicitly addressed the issue of racism.

As it was, a stream of songs that were bland and worse, by such luminaries as the Archies, was suddenly and almost violently interrupted one day by Ball of Confusion. The transistor radio I referred to earlier was not mine, and I hated most of the songs I heard on it. But I listened, because the radio itself was a novelty. I knew of only one transistor radio in all of the small town I grew up in, and it belonged to a friend. So I listened because he actually liked this stuff, and I wanted to hang out with him. Ball of Confusion then became an important song to me not for its social awareness, but as a musical lifeline in a sea of dreck. I am happy to say that, listening to the song today, the quality of the music still stands up.

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