Who Wrote “In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley

“In The Ghetto” became a major hit for Elvis Presley in 1969. One of The King’s most socially conscious tracks, the lyrics tackle the effects of an unstable childhood. While many of Elvis’ songs focused on his own feelings of love and loss, this track widened his gaze to something a little more consequential.

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Learn more about the songwriting behind this Elvis hit, below.

[RELATED: What Do the Lyrics to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” Mean?]

Who Wrote “In The Ghetto”

“In The Ghetto” was penned by Mac Davis. The songwriter pulled from his own experiences to help write the 1969 hit. When he was a kid, he often wondered why some of his friends lived in “bad” parts of town.

“I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy, and he was a black kid,” Davis once told the Tennessean. “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,” he continued. “It was a dirt street ghetto where he lived.”

As an adult, Davis decided to channel those childhood questions into his songwriting. “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,” he said.

The original iteration of the song was titled “The Vicious Cycle.” “Long story short — I couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “circle,” Davis explained. The song then morphed into the Elvis classic that we know and love today. In the same interview with the Tennessean, Davis recalled the first time he heard Elvis sing his song.

“I heard it on the radio, driving down the street,” he said. “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. But that lasted about maybe five seconds, and then I realized that I had a huge hit.”

Davis’ Career

Davis went on to write a number of songs for The King, including “Memories,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “A Little Less Conversation.” On top of his work with Elvis, Davis also worked with Frank Sinatra. He was an employee at Sinatra’s company, Boots Enterprises, for several years in the ’60s. There, he worked on many of the crooner’s records.

On top of his songwriting career, Davis had an accomplished solo career. Prior to connecting with Elvis or Sinatra, he was part of a rock group called The Zots. Later, in the early ’70s, he had a charting hit with “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me.” In 1974, Davis was crowned the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year award.

In the late ’70s, he starred in his own variety show amongst other acting credits, including the sports comedy film Possums, the stage show The Will Rogers Follies, and more.

Davis passed away on September 29, 2020, following complications from heart surgery.

Photo by Authentic Brands Group (ABG)

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