In the Ghetto

"In the Ghetto" (originally titled "The Vicious Circle") is a 1969 song recorded by Elvis Presley and written by Mac Davis. It was a major hit released in 1969 as a part of Presley's comeback album with "Any Day Now" as the flip side.

Song information

A boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in the ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, learns how to steal and fight, purchases a gun and steals a car, tries to run, but is killed. The song ends with another child being born in the ghetto, and implies that the newborn could 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. It is played in the key of B flat.

In the Ghetto was recorded during Presley's session in the American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. It was Presley's first creative recording session since the Elvis '68 Comeback Special. Other hits recorded at this session were "Suspicious Minds", "Kentucky Rain", and "Don't Cry Daddy".

The song was published by Gladys Music, Inc., Elvis Presley's publishing company.

The song was Presley's first Top 10 hit in the United States in four years, peaking at number 3, and number 2 in Canada. It was his first UK Top 10 hit in three years, also peaking at No. 2. It hit No. 1 on Cashbox and No. 8 Easy Listening. It was a number-one hit in West Germany, Ireland, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.

As a major international hit, Presley included it in his setlist during his return to live performances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969. It was a staple of his shows in the first two seasons, however in his third (August/September 1970), he included it only once, at the dinner show on August 13, for the benefit of the MGM cameras filming Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970). This version started without pause at the end of another hit from 1969, "Don't Cry Daddy".


Lisa Marie Presley duet version

The song was recorded in 2007 by Lisa Marie Presley as a duet with her father to raise money for the Presley Charitable Foundation. The song was released on iTunes.

Cover versions

After Elvis Presley, the song has been performed by many other artists. Among them were, most notably, Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Manson, Natalie Merchant, Susan Cadogan, Candi Staton, Dolly Parton, Bobby Blue Bland, Bobbie Gentry, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ian Stuart Donaldson, The Cranberries, Merle Haggard, Leatherface, Three Six Mafia, DNX vs. The Voice, Bad Lieutenant, Fair Warning, Beats International, Eleanor Shanley, Jim Goad and Chris Clark. The Spanish singer and actor Enrique Castellon Vargas, also known as "El Principe Gitano" (The Gypsy Prince), recorded a version of the song, a version sung with such a thick Spanish accent that the English lyrics were almost uninintelligible. The KLF used a sample of the Elvis recording in their ambient DJ album Chill Out (1990). Mac Davis recorded a version of the song for a greatest hits album released in 1979. In 2011, Chris de Burgh covered the song on his album Footsteps 2.

Dancehall singer Sister Nancy used some of the song's lyrics in the song "Coward of the Country", which appeared on her 1982 album One, Two.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds version

"In the Ghetto" was covered by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and was their debut single. It was recorded at the Trident Studios in London and released as a 7" on June 18, 1984 with the B-side "The Moon Is in the Gutter". It reached 84 on the UK Singles Chart. While originally not present on any album, it was later included on the CD reissue of the band's first album, From Her to Eternity.


Parodies and cultural references

In the South Park episode "Chickenpox", Eric Cartman sings the song on the way to the bad part of town.

Rich Banks recorded a parody called "In the Grotto" for The Adam Carolla Show.

Paul Shanklin recorded a parody called "In a Yugo" for Rush Limbaugh, in which an environmentally-conscious family buys a Yugo to save motor fuel, only to get killed by a truck after swerving to miss a duck. Later, Shanklin updated his parody for a new generation too young to remember the Yugo, replacing it with its perceived equivalent, "In a Hybrid".

El Vez recorded a version titled "En el Barrio" that mixed humor with details about Chicano struggles.

The Danish radio program also recorded a parody called "Ned i NATO", which makes fun of former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's path to a leading post at NATO.

The BBC radio comedy program Radio Active broadcast a version titled Tim the gecko.

Dutch television celebrity and comedian Paul de Leeuw, as his alter ego Bob de Rooy, released a Dutch-language translated version in 1992. The first Dutch-language version of the song was recorded by Flemish crooner Will Tura, whose version uses the wrong definite article "de" preceding the word "ghetto".

In the Fox sitcom New Girl, Jessica Day performs the song as an Elvis impersonator at her roommate Nick's father's funeral.