♫ In The Ghetto ♫ (Redux)

It was almost one year ago to the day (11/23/2019) that I last played this.  Tonight, as on that night, it begs to be played again.  I am not much of an Elvis fan, but this song … this song was made for his voice.  This song speaks … or should speak … to us all.  Tonight, I read the staggering statistics that 12% of households in the U.S. did not have enough food to eat, and that in just the last week, 78,000+ people became unemployed.  Add to that the fact that we are now seeing more than 2,000 deaths daily from the pandemic, and we have a situation that is untenable.  We have people starving in this country.  We have babies being born with no home to go to, no future to look to.  Yes, tonight this song resonates. 

Today, thinking about the people who are suffering while our so-called president plays games over an ego-wall, thinking about the income disparity in this nation, the wealthy who cannot even see those living below the poverty line, this song seems to call out to me, saying … play me!

The song was written by Mac Davis …

“… it’s kind of a convoluted story, but it’s a true story. I had been trying to write a song called “The Vicious Circle” for what seemed like ages. I wasn’t old enough (for it) to be “ages,” but I was in my late 20s. The word “ghetto” was just becoming popular to describe the parts of urban areas where poor people were living and couldn’t get out. They were stuck there, and everybody took off to the suburbs.

I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy, and he was a black kid. We were good buddies, 5 or 6 years old. I remember him being one of my best buddies. But he lived in a part of town, and I couldn’t figure out why they had to live where they lived, and we got to live where we lived. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we didn’t have broken bottles every six inches. It was a dirt street ghetto where he lived.

At any rate, I’d always wanted to write a song about it, where a kid is born, he doesn’t have a male parent, and falls into the wrong people and dies just as another kid comes along and replaces him. It’s just a vicious circle. Long story short — I couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “circle.”

I was sitting in the office one day. Nancy Sinatra had signed me to her publishing company, and a buddy of mine, Freddy Weller, came over … He said, ‘Hey, I got this lick that Joe South showed me.’ He played this lick on the guitar, and boy, I just heard (sings) “In the ghetto.”

I didn’t say anything, went home that night and sat down with that lick. I started singing “In the ghetto,” and by about 2 o’clock in the morning, I had written the song. … of course, I called Freddy up as I was wont to do in those days and sung him the song at 2 o’clock in the morning. There was a long silence, and he said some foul cuss word and hung up on me. He wasn’t upset with me, he was just mad that he didn’t get to write part of that song.

Elvis almost didn’t do the song, though, according to his friend Marty Lacker …

“Elvis was hesitant to do ‘In The Ghetto’.  Colonel Parker had always drilled into his head, ‘Don’t do message songs. If you do a 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.'”

Listen to the words … they are powerful and every bit as relevant today as they were when this song was recorded in 1969.

In the Ghetto
Elvis Presley

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his mama cries
‘Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

People, don’t you understand
The child needs a helping hand
Or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day?
Take a look at you and me
Are we too blind to see
Do we simply turn our heads, and look the other way?

Well, the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his hunger burns
So he starts to roam the streets at night
And he learns how to steal, and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

Then one night in desperation
A young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car
Tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries

As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
Face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And as her young man dies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
Another little baby child is born
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

And his mama cries (in the ghetto)
(In the ghetto)

Songwriters: Mac Davis
In the Ghetto lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Raleigh Music Publishing

21 thoughts on “♫ In The Ghetto ♫ (Redux)

  1. Oh my, Jill, one of my favorite of Mac’s songs. Elvis did it like no one else could. Mac Davis was a genius songwriter. Did you ever watch his variety show? There was a segment in each show where he took song title suggestions from the audience and spontaneously made up a bit of a song for each. It was great. I had a huge crush on him. The other Elvis song that tugs at my heartstrings almost as much is Don’t Cry Daddy. 😞

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad!!! I remember that Mac Davis had a variety show, but if I ever watched it, I’ve since forgotten … I have never been a big t.v. watcher. That does sound like a fun segment, though. Oh yes, “Don’t Cry Daddy” is another of those that brings a moist eye!


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  3. Elvis was right to ignore Col. Parker on this. Davis wrote a heartfelt and powerful song. Davis tells a great story when he was singing this song in small venue (after Elvis recorded it) and in walks Elvis. Davis said he forgot the words at that moment as Elvis laughed. Keith

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    • PS – Per a two-part documentary, it should be noted Col. Parker restricted Elvis from touring overseas, as Parker did not think he (Parker) would be let back in the country. I can’t recall why, but Parker had some issue hanging over his head. Elvis truly wanted to tour, especially after being stationed in Germany.

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