Elvis Presley: The ‘In the Ghetto’ Songwriter Had One Major Complaint With The King’s Recording of the Tune

by Halle Ames
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The songwriter for ‘In The Ghetto’ allegedly hoped that Elvis Presley would have sung the tune differently.

Mac Davis is the one credited with writing the tune. And although “In the Ghetto” is a timeless hit, Davis had written the song for another legendary artist.

From Sammy Davis Jr. To Elvis Presley

According to Express, Elvis Presley’s ex-girlfriend Linda Thompson reported in her autobiography that Mac Davis wrote “In the Ghetto” for jazz singer Sammy Davis Jr. Thompson said that Davis turned down the song but referred it to someone else.

“Elvis said when his friend Sammy Davis Jr was given this song by a writer, he turned it down. Sammy said, ‘In all authenticity, I can’t do this song because I never lived this way, but I will tell you who did, Elvis Presley,'” she wrote.

So, the song went to Presley, along with a few other Mac Davis songs, which include “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “A Little Less Conversation.”

It turns out that the song did relate to Elvis Presley, who grew up not as lavished as he eventually became. Presley grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, in poverty. According to History.com, Elvis’s father, Vernon, worked several odd jobs, and in 1938 was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a $4 check.

Furthermore, Elvis was the first person in his family to receive a high school diploma.

Linda Thompson said that Elvis Presley’s upbringing made the song feel more genuine.

“Davis gave the song to Elvis. Elvis sang it with such authenticity and feeling because he had first-hand experience living in the ghetto.”

Mac Davis on “In The Ghetto”

Mac Davis once revealed where he got the inspiration for “In The Ghetto.”

“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.”

It wasn’t until after Sammy Davis Jr. had turned down the song that Elvis Presley’s group called. They asked Davis, who has been a reliable songwriter for Presley, if he had any new pieces. The first song he sent over to the King was “In The Ghetto.”

The song was a hit with Presley, giving the artist his first top ten US single for four years, peaking at number 3 and reaching number 2 in the UK.

However, the first time Davis heard it on the radio, he was unhappy with one particular part. Davis went on to say that he was pleased that the song became such a huge success. It also gave the songwriter his highest-grossing check.

“I heard it on the radio, driving down the street. I remember going, “I wish he hadn’t said ‘Ghet-to.’ I wish he had just said ‘In the Ghetto.’ That’s a typical songwriter, you know. But that lasted about maybe five seconds, and then I realized that I had a huge hit. I knew it was going to be a really, really big hit.”

Outsider.com