1-2-3-4: Counting out 1970
Right from the opening count and the demanding bass riff, you know something good is spinning. It’s one of those introductions that get you to tilt your head a bit and strain to hear more above the din around you.
Listen to that scratch rhythm guitar – nothing but brilliant. The drums come slithering in at 0:43 but don’t really pound full skin until just about 1:06, and there’s as fierce and persuasive a torching harmonica as your ever going to have the privilege to hear.
“Round and around and around we go
Where the world’s headed nobody knows”
You must listen to this in the context it comes from in 1970 both musically and politically. The ‘My Girl’ and ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ days were behind them. The music, with Norman Whitfield at the controls, became more a reflection of the tumultuous times everyone was wading in.
In ‘Ball Of Confusion’ they cry about integration, segregation, gun control, kids growing up too soon, bill collectors, suicide, unemployment … in short, everything crammed into newspapers and CNN that you’ll see tonight, bringing to mind the cliché “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Answer this: have we moved any closer to resolution of the issues in 2007 that the Temps of 1970 brought up? Consider this later on – have they mentioned anything any less powerful or important than what we face today? Truly, they sing a message for all time.
Interesting to note that they send out respect to the Fab Four in the line “The Beatle’s new record’s a gas!”, showing the mutual respect the two camps had. The Beatles found the Motown sound powerful and full of presence, but elusive to duplicate in the Abbey Road studios. See Geoff Emerick’s book “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles” for how the Beatles loved, relished as inspiration, and tried to duplicate the sound of Mowtown - but never could.
Another tasty tidbit I found while studying the history of this classic song is that the Temps were supposed to record “War”, but executives at Motown did not want to alienate the more conservative leaning record buying folk out there so it was given to up and coming Edwin Starr, while the toned-down, non-militant “Ball of Confusion” was done by the temps. Who here wouldn’t chip into the pot to hear even the demo of The Temptations doing “War” if it existed?
How about this – with the exception of the “great GoogaMooga” line (played in F) the whole song is based on just the C chord - just amazing musically.
As an aside, it’s been covered many times before but my personal fave is by an 80’s band called Love And Rockets. I feel they captured a bit of the bubbling tension the Temptations had for the tune.
Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine
Can I count it off? (yea)
Talking about great musicianship, can we let JB count it out? Damn straight we can!
What more superlatives can one use to commend and respect JB that hasn’t already been said?
Right you are, none.
Coming into 1970, the man has been a breathing, walking, and bottomless well of inspiration, and a living definition of musical genius. I think that up to this point in his career, he hadn’t done one thing wrong and could never trip, stumble or fall from his perch high above all. Could anyone ever be able to say, from a 1970 point of perspective, that he would ever lose his cutting edge? Can anyone argue with that?
Unmistakable guitar riff by none other than Bootsy Collins! Say wha’ - Bootsy? He was a tender fifteen when he laid this out. Yea, only fifteen – makes one want to put the guitar away and take up quilting instead doesn’t it?
No denying that the sound is pure JB though. JB at the top of his game anyone? I’m not going to argue the point, but damn, isn’t everything just perfect in this one? Listen to the piano frills and trills. A jam song that made it huge on the R ’N’ B charts, a fantastic Groove ’N’ Move, a ‘shake your moneymaker shaker’. Can a witness for the bass man please step forward and testify to his ability to carry this on his back? Ain’t nothing but a monster.
Can I take ‘em to the bridge?” (hit me now, come on now!)
Stay on the scene
Like a sex machine
The way I like it
Is the way it is
I got mine (dig it!)
He got his
Stay on the scene
Like a loving machine!
Can anyone estimate just how many funk up-and-coming bands tried to emulate the feel, the sound, and the essence of this particular track? How many were manipulated by JB in 1970 when they heard this haunting, elegant in it’s simplicity, riff banging in their head till the long-ago late night hours? A song just could not be more dance and hit worthy than this.
Take a step back into 1970 and listen to the countdown in these tracks. It is plainly incredible that these two grooves from 1970 are still making their inspiration felt today in 2007 – 37 years later! Marvel in their ability to move and sway the hips, and minds, of more than a few generations since they initially made their first impact. Their indelible print will continue to be a force to be reckoned with years from now.
Let me give you something to measure these tracks up against: how many present bands - bands playing today - can justify a claim that something they lay down in 2007 will be just as important to a willing audience 37 years from now - in 2044?
Didn't think so.
The Temptations: Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today) (25)
From: Anthology [Original Recording Reissued] 
James Brown: Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (8)
From: Sex Machine: The Very Best of James Brown