This song is about poverty, describing a child who can't overcome his surroundings and turns to crime, which leads to his death. It was the first song Elvis recorded with a socially-conscious message. He was reluctant to do it for that reason, but knew it would be a hit.
This was written by Mac Davis, who entered the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2006. At the ceremony, Davis explained: "It's a simple matter of growing up with a little boy who's father worked with my father. He lived in a part of town that was a dirt-street ghetto. I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and it was a ghetto in every since of the word, but we didn't use that word back then. I was trying to come up with a song called 'The Vicious Circle,' how a child is born, he has no father, and the same thing happens. The word 'Ghetto' became popular in the late '60s to describe the poor parts of town. A friend of mine, Freddy Weller, who used to play guitar for Paul Revere And The Raiders, showed me lick on the guitar one day. I went home and fiddled around with it, I wrote the song and called him up at 4 in the morning and sang it to him. He knew I'd written a hit with his lick, but that's the way it goes."
Davis wrote this as "In The Ghetto (The Vicious Circle)." RCA Records got Davis' permission to drop the subtitle before presenting it to Elvis.
Davis had written some songs for Elvis that were used in his movies, including "A Little Less Conversation" and "Clean Up Your Own Backyard." When Elvis was making his comeback and recording in Memphis, his management asked Davis if he had anything they could use. Davis sent them a tape with this and "Don't Cry Daddy," as the first 2 songs, and Elvis recorded both of them.
This was Elvis' first Top 10 hit in 4 years.
If Elvis turned this down, the song would have gone to Rosie Grier, a minister and former football player.
Memphis was Elvis' hometown. It was the first time he recorded there since 1956. This was the first release from those sessions.
In 2007, Elvis' daughter Lisa Marie Presley recorded tracks that were composited with Elvis' original version to create a duet with this song - similar to what Natalie Cole did with her father's song "Unforgettable
." Some proceeds from the sale of the song went to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.
As part of a series of re-releases of Elvis songs in the UK in 2007, this re-entered the UK chart at #15.