About the song

Ah, yes, In the Ghetto. A powerful and poignant song, even more so when considering the context of both its original performance and the later renditions that emerged. While it’s credited to Elvis Presley and Lisa Marie Presley, it’s important to understand the distinct threads woven into this tapestry of a song.

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First, let’s rewind to 1969. This was a pivotal year for Elvis. His career trajectory had shifted. The electrifying rock and roll performances of the 1950s had transitioned into a period dominated by Hollywood musicals. In the Ghetto marked a return to his musical roots, a return spearheaded by producer Chips Moman at American Sound Studios in Memphis.

The song itself wasn’t written by Elvis. It sprang from the pen of songwriter Mac Davis, a name you might recognize from other country-tinged hits. The story goes that Davis presented Presley with a demo titled The Vicious Circle. Elvis, deeply affected by the stark portrayal of poverty and its cyclical nature, immediately saw the song’s potential. He tweaked the lyrics slightly, and under Moman’s masterful production, In the Ghetto was born.

The song paints a vivid picture of hardship. The opening lines establish a scene of despair: “As the snow flies on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’/ A poor little baby child is born/ In the ghetto.” Elvis’s voice, rich and expressive, conveys the helplessness of the situation. The lyrics don’t shy away from the harsh realities – a hungry child, a desperate mother. It’s a stark contrast to the carefree, rebellious persona Elvis had cultivated earlier in his career.

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In the Ghetto wasn’t just a personal artistic choice for Presley. 1969 was a year of immense social and political upheaval in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, and the Vietnam War raged on. The song’s message of poverty and despair resonated deeply with a nation grappling with its own social conscience.

It’s important to note that the version you mentioned includes Lisa Marie Presley. This iteration is a much more recent phenomenon. In 2007, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Elvis’s death, a virtual duet of In the Ghetto was created featuring Lisa Marie’s vocals alongside her father’s. This emotional masterpiece brought a new dimension to the song, a poignant reminder of legacy and the enduring power of music to bridge generations.

So, when you listen to In the Ghetto, you’re not just listening to a song. You’re experiencing a potent mix of artistic expression, social commentary, and a deeply personal connection that transcends time. It’s a testament to Elvis Presley’s enduring influence and a reminder of the universality of themes like poverty and the yearning for a better life.

Video

Lyrics

“In The Ghetto”

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is born
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

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?

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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

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

Then one night in desperation
The 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

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

And his mama cries