Elvis Presley’s ‘In the Ghetto’: Story Behind the Timeless Mac Davis Penned Hit

by Madison Miller
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In 1969 Elvis Presley recorded the hit song “In the Ghetto.” The song, however, was written by Mac Davis to be then performed by “The King.”

The song spent 19 weeks on the charts while its peak position was No. 2.

For such a successful song, what made Davis want to write it to begin with?

Davis Finds Inspiration

It started with Davis’ empathy for a friend that lived in the bad part of town.

“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,” said Davis to Tennessean.

Davis always wanted to create a song about the tribulations of a child. Specifically, one who suffers the vicious cycle of getting into the wrong circle of people than dying and being replaced by someone new.

Country singer Freddy Weller played a lick on his guitar for Davis and then his brain moved in its own songwriting cycle to then push out the entire song.

He then went to share the song with Weller.

“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 told Tennessean.

‘In the Ghetto’ Becomes a Universal Hit

When Elvis Presley took it over, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a mass sensation. It was to be expected with his overwhelming popularity and ability to rank high on the charts.

As a songwriter, Davis still clung heavily to the song. He even said he wished that Presley pronounced the chorus differently but that mixed emotion “lasted about five seconds.”

The song has gathered a lot of attention from other artists as well. Many people have produced their own versions or covers of the song.

For example, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Marilyn Manson, Dolly Parton, Sammy Davis Jr., and Natalie Merchant are just a few people who have tackled the hit.

Most recently, Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire performed the song to honor Mac Davis at the 2020 CMAs.

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