SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 23)

It’s been a while since this irregular series last appeared.

The song being featured today is most closely associated with Elvis Presley, but has been covered quite extensively since its first airing in 1969.

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

And his mama cries
‘cos 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 head and look the other way?

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

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
In the ghetto

The song’s composer was Mac Davis, a Texas-born songwriter who got his first break working with Nancy Sinatra before gaining fame for his work with the king of rock’n’roll. The original title of the songs was The Vicious Circle, reflecting its narrative of grinding and continuing poverty that inevitable escalates into violence. It’s a heart breaking tale that has come true on far too many occasions in towns and cities across the world, and not merely Chicago.

In The Ghetto provided Elvis Presley with his first hit single in the UK in three years, and likewise in many other parts of the world and, as mentioned earlier, has been recorded by numerous singers over the year and also spawned a number of parody versions.

I have to say that when I first heard the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds take on it, I wasn’t quite sure it was a tribute or a parody, but given that it was recorded at a time when the singer and his acolytes were almost permanently is a state of substance dependency, it’s hardly a surprise that it turned out the way it did:-

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – In The Ghetto

The single seemingly hit the shops on 18 June 1984, the very day that I celebrated by 21st birthday by getting drunk and playing all the early Smiths songs at full blast in my flat, with Girl Afraid being on very heavy rotation! Who’d have thought back then that Nick Cave would still be alive in 2019 and reaching the level of popularity he is currently enjoying while the lead singer of the Mancunians would be held in such contempt for his statements and political leanings?

JC

8 thoughts on “SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 23)

  1. If you haven’t already, you should check out Candi Staton’s version nearly as good as the Elvis original which by the way wasn’t even the best song on that single, Any Day Now on the flip is even better.

  2. Enjoyed that Nick Cave version – and my word, what lyrics.
    Thanks for the Candi tip too – you’re right.

  3. Of course the ultimate version of In the Ghetto is by Sunderland punk pioneers Leatherface. Although these versions are UK.

  4. I love Nick Cave, and am amazed at the level of popularity he is at now – well deserved. Almost five years ago I was on a rush visit to Sydney, Australia, a PPI came in and a stepson, daughter in law and four grandsons beckoned. I was sitting in Rob’s house on a Sunday evening and he sudden;y remembered that Nick was playing Sydney around then. He checked on his phone and said, “Sorry, it’s tonight, he’s probably on stage now.” As if that disappointment wasn’t enough, when I got off the train back on the city centre the gig was finishing and I could overhear everyone talking about it. Ouch! Mind you, the day with the family was great.

  5. An evocative lyric supported with gorgeous music and ‘that’ voice. I much prefer Rock n Roll Elvis but when he does decide to croon he tends to trash his competition. Superb song!

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