Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" (1970)

63. Temptations, "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" (June 6, 1970, #3)

When Motown went psychedelic it was not without some cringing on the sidelines. Partly it seemed such a purely calculated move, partly it was obvious that it was several steps, at least, behind the rest of the world—and partly there was something about it that wasn't right, that wasn't quite, really, psychedelic, as in rooted somehow in the experience of hallucinogenic drugs. For the Temptations, arguably Motown's house act, they pretty much got all that out of their system and behind them with "Psychedelic Shack," after which there was this and then on to things more classically soulful, e.g., "Just My Imagination" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." But don't pass this one up too quick. It's a pure blast, from the roaring yet almost subliminal count-off to the bass that sets the virtually impossible tempo to the rush of words the vocalists struggle to spit out quickly enough. All too self-consciously political ("Air pollution, revolution, gun control / Sound of soul / Shootin' rockets to the moon / Politicians say more taxes will / Solve everything"), and incidentally trying with all its might to walk both sides of the message street, it's nevertheless a pure rave-up gas, making up with sheer throttling propulsion what it lacks in subtlety or insight. As with a similar topical Motown song of that particular moment, Edwin Starr's "War," the attempt at message is a variously admirable gesture, but it's the sonics that deliver the goods. And the message of this song could be how Daffy Duck stole Olive Oyl from Popeye with a mayonnaise and bologna sandwich and it wouldn't be any less impressive. Band and singers both are amped up electric and the thing absolutely scorches.

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