Soul Serenade: The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”

Dennis EdwardsI’ve written more about the Temptations in this column than probably any other group or solo artist. I’ve spoken of my love for David Ruffin and the entire classic lineup. I didn’t say original lineup because Ruffin was not an original member of the Temptations. He replaced Elbridge Bryant in 1964. But the passing of Dennis Edwards, who, in turn, replaced Ruffin in 1968, is something that I cannot ignore.
To be honest, I resented Edwards when he first joined the Tempts. I was such a fan of Ruffin and I was not happy that he had been dismissed, although it’s probably fair to say that he earned that dismissal with his behavior. But then those Norman Whitfield-produced hits began to come out with Edwards singing lead on them and resentment quickly turned to admiration.

These weren’t David Ruffin’s Temptations anymore. That was clear from the first notes of “Cloud Nine” which appeared in October 1968. These were the psychedelic Tempts and subsequent hits in this vein included “Runaway Child, Running Wild,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and “Shakey Ground.”

“Ball of Confusion” was written by Whitfield and Motown stalwart Barrett Strong. The single was recorded at Hitsville USA (Studio A) on April 7, 1970, and it was released on Motown’s Gordy imprint on May 7. All of the Temptations, aside from Otis Williams, contributed lead vocal parts, and they were backed by the legendary Funk Brothers. The single reached #3 on the pop chart and #2 on the R&B chart.

The Temptations

David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards were friends and when Ruffin was first dismissed from the Temptations he encouraged Edwards to step up. Before long though, Ruffin decided he wanted back in. He began to show up at Temptations shows, grab the mic from Edwards to sing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and run off again. At one point, Otis Williams decided to relent and let Ruffin back in, even going so far as to let Edwards, who was still new to the group at that point, know that he would be laid off. But Ruffin failed to show up for the very first reunion gig and that was the end of the idea of bringing him back into the fold.

Edwards had come from Alabama and his family moved to Detroit when he was ten-years-old. Early on in his career Edwards joined the Mighty Clouds of Joy gospel group. His parents did not approve of secular music but by 1961 Edwards had a group called Dennis Edwards and the Fireballs. After serving in the military, Edwards auditioned for Motown and got a job singing with the Contours in 1966. When the Contours opened shows for the Temptations, who were by then having problems with Ruffin, Edwards was noticed by the group’s members.

Edwards quit the Contours in 1967 and he was prepared to follow Holland-Dozier-Holland to their new Invictus label when the Temptations called and the string of hits began. In 1977 the Temptations were about to leave Motown for Atlantic Records when Otis Williams fired Edwards. When the Temptations returned to Motown three years later Edwards was rehired. The group was in rehearsals for the Reunion tour, which also included Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, when Edwards began to miss rehearsals and was fired again.

In the 1980s Edwards had some success as a Motown solo artist before rejoining the Temptations for the third time in 1987 and being fired for the third time in 1989. In the 1990s, Edwards toured with Ruffin and Kendricks and after the two former Temptations died in successive years Edwards led the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards.

Dennis Edwards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Temptations in 1989. His Temptations Review was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. On that same night, Edwards was given the Living Legends award. He died of complications from meningitis on February 1, 2018.

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