In The Ghetto - Elvis Presley

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"In The Ghetto" - Elvis Presley (1969)

Written by legendary songwriter Mac Davis, "In The Ghetto" was a major comeback hit for Elvis Presley in 1969.

The song is about generational poverty. A boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in a ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed just as another child is born. The speaker implies that the newborn will meet the same fate, continuing the cycle of poverty and violence.

The feeling of an inescapable circle is created by the structure of the song, with its simple, stark phrasing; by the repetition of the phrase "in the ghetto" as the close of every fourth line; and finally by the repetition of the first verse's "and his mama cries" just before the beginning and as the close of the last verse.

Davis said his inspiration came from a boy who he grew up with in Lubbock, Texas, who worked with his father. He lived in a part of town that was a dirt-street ghetto but the word "ghetto" wasn't used back then. He was trying to come up with a song called "he Vicious Circle",' how a child is born, he has no father, and the same thing happens.

It's debatable whether Elvis's choice to perform this song was a conscious attempt at social justice and commentary. His manager Tom Parker did not want him to record "message songs" as he believed it would scare away potential record buyers. Apparently Elvis insisted and Parker relented.

These and other songs that Elvis recorded in Memphis in 1969 for his 1968-1972  "comeback" enabled him to reinvent himself as an all-out leather-coated rocker eager to revisit his blues and country roots.  Other major hits, such as "Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain" were entirely fresh and had absolutely no traces of the "old Elvis." They were very successful because he interpreted them with his own unique style and the recordings reflect that.

Presley seemed cognizant of current trends, as he updated his sounds with contemporary compositions and touches of soul to create some reasonably gutsy late-'60s pop/rock.  Unfortunately, the "comeback" didn't last more than a few years and by 1973 Elvis was back on his deadly downward spiral in which there would be no more comebacks. 

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