In 1970 Motown masterminds Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (Money, among many others) wrote a song called War for the Temptations that was not released because it was deemed to be too radical.)
Whitfield and Strong then wrote Ball of Confusion, which is psychedelic and strong (like Sly Stone’s stuff), but politically ambiguous. Certainly radical, but hard to pin down. The Temps had a No. 3 hit with that.
At the same time, Motown released a version of War sung by Edwin Starr (who coincidentally wrote Shades of Blue’s great song, Oh How Happy!), that went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
Whitfield then recorded a version of Ball of Confusion with his younger and more political group, the Undisputed Truth. Not that Ball of Confusion is a radical song, but Whitfield and Strong, two of the greatest songwriters of the pop era, were always trying to do something bigger. Good for them. What’s interesting is that all three groups, the Temptations, Edwin Starr, and the Undisputed Truth, were signed with Motown. It’s like Berry Gordy knew he could channel Whitfield and Strong’s creative energy into more sales and profits! Different strokes, and all that.
Love ’em both. Ball of Confusion is I think best described as radically centrist – gives it to “both” “sides.” Berry Gordy gets shit for timidity but the fact is that he released and promoted these records. In his own way – after all these songs made heavy rotation on AM radio – he was as radical as any of them. He should get points rather than shit for deep cultural penetration. Not that Peter is smirking as many have when discussing Motown, I’m just saying that it took genius to cross over to the white audience without losing street cred, and Motown did that again and again. Maybe nothing did as much for race relations as the mutual love of soul music, a love that forced working class and middle class whites to examine and often change their attitudes. If I love the music how can I hate the people? was a question that many asked themselves, and I daresay that’s exactly what Berry and the other Motown greats were going for. And if they made heaps of money at it, good for them.
No smirking here. I was making your point, or trying to.