Country Throwback: Mac Davis Sings ‘In the Ghetto’ in 1972, Song He Wrote for Elvis Presley

by Matthew Wilson
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Country music lost a great songwriter last year. Mac Davis always had a keen ear and a gift for words, creating melodic works of art. One of Davis’ most popular songs is “In the Ghetto.”

Elvis Presley may have popularized the song, turning it into a hit. But Davis was the mind behind the lyrics. In this 1972 performance, Davis performed the song himself. Davis opted for something simpler and less showy than the King of Rock n’ Roll.

Davis performed the tune several times throughout his life. It proved to be one of his most endearing, and he included it on his greatest hits album in 1979. Presley and Davis haven’t been the only ones to sing the song. Most notably, Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker released a version as a tribute to the late singer.

Inspiration Behind the Mac Davis Hit

The inspiration for “In the Ghetto” came from not Davis’ own life, but that of his friend. Davis had a friend growing up who lived in a rough part of town. That idea stuck with him as he got older and influenced the creation of the song.

“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,” Davis told Tennessean.

Davis developed the idea more for the tune, focusing on the cycle of poverty and how it can lead to violence. Davis also sought inspiration from singer Freddy Weller’s music. He shared the song with him after it was finished.

“I called Freddy up as I was wanted 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 … The biggest compliment, yeah. He wasn’t upset with me. He was just mad that he didn’t get to write part of that song,” Davis continued.

Presley then turned the song into a hit that populated the airwaves.

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