In The Ghetto

Album: From Elvis In Memphis (1969)
Charted: 2 3
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • 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 two songs, and Elvis recorded both of them.
  • In America, this was Elvis' first Top 10 hit in four years ("Crying In The Chapel" also hit #3 in 1965).
  • 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.
  • Elvis' friend Marty Lacker urged him to record in Memphis and connected him with producer Chips Moman.

    "Elvis was hesitant to do 'In The Ghetto,'" Lacker told Goldmine magazine. "Colonel Parker had always drilled into his head, 'Don't do message songs. If you do message song it's just like taking a political side. Whatever side you're gonna take is gonna offend the others'. I was in the control room after Elvis and the musicians had been working on 'In The Ghetto' a little bit. He said, 'Look, I don't think I should do this song'. I said, 'Elvis, if you're ever gonna do a song like this, this is the one'. He looked over at Chips and Chips said, 'This is a hit record. But I'll tell you what, if you don't want it, can I have the song?' Elvis didn't blink. He said, 'No, I'm gonna do it.'"
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 28

  • Randy from Houghton Lake, MiEnough people have corrected Craig from Baltimore (probably didn't do any good) but I just want to say he has a right to his opinion. It doesn't matter that it's wrong, ignorant, and there are no facts at all to back it up. He has a right to say what he thinks. No need to thank me for sticking up for you Craig from Baltimore.
  • Coy from Palestine, TexasCraig from Baltimore--you realize Elvis has sold over a billion records and just had the number one album in England? Bill Medley said in his biography that the Righteous Brothers were offered this song and he regrettably turned it down.
  • David from UkUm, Craig from Baltimore, you made an idiotic remark about this song not being relevant, regardless who sang it, it was extremely relevant, do you know anything about the medium you're commenting in?
  • Cameron from United Kingdom WalesI like Elvis, I wish he was still alive today but sadly he is not.
  • Christy from Santa Barbara, CaForgive me if I've overlooked it, but I don't think I saw any mention of "Memories", another beautiful Mac Davis song that Elvis made famous.
  • Karen from Manchester, NhI was never an Elvis fan, but always appreciated this song. Unfortunately, somehow my 7-year-old daughter discovered Elvis when she was 3 and has been a HUGE fan ever since, even winning a costume contest dressing as The King. Now I can't avoid him.
  • Cat from Delaware, ArThis song, for me, never loses it's impact. It's a great song and Elvis sings it really well and it makes me cry every time. This is one of the greatest he ever sung.
  • Thompho from Makhado, South Africathis song is very touching. it makes me cry
  • George from Belleville, NjThis song is a very dramatic and powerful piece of songwriting and Elvis' rendition turns it into a hit song.I totally disagree with Craig from Baltimore.Elvis was no joke.He was the greatest singer and entertainer of all time.Elvis was entering a new phase in his career.He changed with the times and was therefore relevant throughout his career.Elvis did not fail.In fact his popularity increased again in the 70's to the point where his concerts were all sold out wherever he performed and still selling millions of records and recording some really good songs.He was the most successful singer in the history of music selling far more records than any other artist.Get the facts straight before you put down the man.
  • Wanda from Upstate , NyNatalie Merchant does a very fine cover of this song. Somehow it seems more serious when she sings it.
  • Fulu Thompho from Limpopo, South Africai have played this song too much but i just can't get enough of it. it is really touching. try to visualise the song lyrics, you'll start caring for the homeless and hopeless people
  • Vingthor from Catskills, NyI was recently in Virginia (refresher 4 aircraft mechanic-school ) & ended up moving in with a few classmates for the 6 week course. We all talk'd it over & in order to save some $$ , we got an apmt 2gether & had 4 ( I'm white ) , other 3 were from Africa. 1 of my roomies had a girlfriend from New Orleans. 1st , let me say I was happily surprised that all 3 knew who Elvis was & knew a few songs by him...BUT 1 day my buddy comes up to me & says "did you know Elvis was a racist?" His GF had told him that. She said that many people in the south have that general idea about him. I was FLOORED! I went on to tell them pretty much all the info on this page:
    ( Don't have room to write it all ).That was prolly week 2 in Va. & b4 I left , 2 of my 3 roomies made copies of 3 of my CD's. & SHE actually got a CD herself!! ( My Elvis Gospel ) I know this is long-winded , but I thought it important to write-in! that was 2 years ago & we still keep in touch...No-1's perfect but I am proud to have shown sum-1 the POSITIVES of Elvis. "E" has a few more fans...Groovy-Baby...YEAH! (in my best Austin-Powers-voice) =) .
  • Jim from Downers Grove, IlAnyone who seriously looks at Presley's lifetime summary of charity work and serious humanitarian awareness couldn't deny that "In The Ghetto" was probably a conscious attempt at social justice and commentary.
  • David from Omaha , NeThis song along with others ... especially songs like He Aint Heavy He's My Brother..recorded by the Hollies, United We Stand, artist I cannot recall.. are just some of the message songs I love... and influence me as a person. I love In The Ghetto.. and it to me shows Elvis at his best at a period in which his voice matured and he was at the greatest part of his career. I too admire Lisa Marie's duet with her father... a sweet moment in her life and mine as well... I wish to thank her for such a caring tribute to her father... he was truly a great man who took a great risk in his career for such a great song as this... it was a moment that in its time was due... to make a difference in this world.. which was a gift to us all.. thank you Elvis. dave
  • Craig from Baltimore, MdElvis had become a joke. This record was a weak crack at becoming relevant in the 70s. He failed
  • Tor-ivar from Veblungsnes, NorwayQuote:
    "Actually Elvis's home town is Tupelo, MS
    - MIKE, Williamsburg, VA"

    This is wrong. His birthtown was Tupelo, Mississippi. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in late 1948 (, and he lived there ever since. In addition, his home, Graceland, is in Memphis, and he lived there almost all of his adult life (when he was not on tour), so his hometown definately is Memphis.

    "It was Elvis' own desire to record this but his manaher, "Col." Parker, did not want him to record "message songs" since that would easily scare potential record buyers. However this time Elvis did not back off and eventually the "Colonel" relented.
    - Erik, Lund, Sweden"

    In his early days, he never spoke up to the Colonel. When they were planning his Comeback Special, he for the first time objected to the Colonel's "orders", and chose to sing rock'n'roll instead of a whole lot of christmas songs. It seems when he finally got the courage to do that, it became easier to do it later on.

    One can't avoid mentioning the beautiful "If I Can Dream", when speaking of message songs. If you haven't heard it, please do.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScFor the most part the early Elvis is my favorite Elvis music, but this my favorite song of his.
  • Joey from Nowhere Land, CaI loved it when Taylor Hicks sang this, it was simply amazing!!
  • David from Youngstown, OhJust an addendum: "Suspicious Minds" was also recorded during the famed '69 Memphis sessions.
  • David from Youngstown, OhThis was one of many incredible songs Elvis recorded in Memphis in 1969. For those of us who think the 1968-1972 period of Elvis' career was his highpoint, the '69 Memphis studio recordings are legendary. Among the songs done during that time were "Wearin' That Loved On Look," "In the Ghetto," "Kentucky Rain," "Rubberneckin'," "Don't Cry Daddy," "Only the Strong Survive," as well as amazing remakes of "Any Day Now," "Gentle on My Mind," and Neil Diamond's "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind." What was so great about Elvis at this time was not only the new material he recorded but his ability to take songs that were released during this time and interpret them in his own unique style.
  • David from Youngstown, OhEric Cartman's version of this rocks! But Elvis is still the king when it comes to this song.
  • Mike from Williamsburg, VaActually Elvis's home town is Tupelo, MS
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhThe TV show Southpark did a spoof of this song.
  • Barry from New York, NcIn one show in Miami during Elvis' September 1970 tour he sang "A runny little boy with the hungry nose" which made him laugh and laugh...and laugh. Consequently the show had to be stopped for several minutes until Elvis regained his more serious side.
  • Zac from Charlotte, NcCartmans version is better
  • Erik from Lund, SwedenIt was Elvis' own desire to record this but his manaher, "Col." Parker, did not want him to record "message songs" since that would easily scare potential record buyers. However this time Elvis did not back off and eventually the "Colonel" relented.
  • Rich from Elkins, WvThe ethnic back-up singers give the song even more substance...good production.
  • Brooke from Sedona, AzThis is one of Lisa Marie's favorite songs by her dad, according to the Rolling Stone interview she did and was also on the cover when her album debuted, "To Whom It May Concern".
see more comments