The Temptations’ 1970 hit “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” bravely sheds light on the political and social issues plaguing the world during the 1960’s. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, this song deviates from Motown’s usual clean and charismatic approach and serves as a prelude for songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Through the use of shrewd lyrics, psychedelic instrumentals, and intimidating vocals “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” serves its purpose in making a statement against the tumultuous world America created.
The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial issues in American history. It is no secret that the American public was not in favor of this war, which is why the government’s decision to keep the US involved for over ten years created such a disconnect between America’s people and their government. In the third verse the Temptations sing, “People all over the world are shouting 'End the war.'” The Temptations bravely attack the government, addressing their continuation of a war no one wants. Although The Temptations avoid explicitly naming the war, or the government as the guilty party, it is evident that this is a criticism, or at least an acknowledgement of a predicament America found itself in.
The Temptations go even further in their attack on the government singing lyrics such as, “Politicians say more taxes will solve everything.” This time they are uncensored in their criticism. This is an undisputed recognition of the people in power at fault for making poor decision. In the first verse Eddie Kendricks sings, “Vote for me and I'll set you free.” Kendricks sings this line in his usual falsetto, but with a sarcastic tone that suggests the politicians say this snidely, with no intentions to do what they promise the public they will do.
Although there are these obvious political commentaries, this song is really a social criticism as much as it is a political one. The first verse contains the lyrics, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” The Temptations shed light on the vengeful attitude of the American people. Lynching was shockingly common at this time in the South and The Temps are reminding everyone that in a world where revenge is practiced this only leads to another Civil War. This song is a reminder that America’s violent and vengeful behavior only amplifies issues, because after all, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
The Temptations also acknowledge that so many people are only devoted to fighting their own causes, the ones that benefit them. They continue in the first verse singing, “Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher. And it seems nobody's interested in learning but the teacher.” Like Bob Dylan in his “finger-pointin songs,” the Temptations point a finger at everyone who is too blindly wrapped up in their own affairs to listen to what anyone else has to say. They expose people, like “the hippies...