Elvis Presley: June Juanico recalls first date in 2008
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Elvis entered a (tragically rather brief) renaissance at the end of the 1960s. After enduring a career slump following years of underwhelming formulaic movies, no live performances and few credible chart-topping records, he roared back with his 1968 televised special. It was the most-watched programme of the year. Elvis had also stood up to his manager Colonel Parker and insisted on performing an electrifying acoustic segment and then finishing with the controversial song If I Can Dream. He followed this by battling Parker and his record company RCA to record another provocative song.
Composer Mac Davis had already written the song Memories for Elvis’ US TV comeback special which aired on December 3, 1968. The following year, he said the star’s team called him up and asked if he had any more material. The first song on the tape of demos he sent over was In The Ghetto. Incredibly, another iconic song Don’t Cry Daddy was also on there.
Davos said: “The Colonel and RCA didn’t want him to release In The Ghetto. Some didn’t want him to record it at all because it was against the image they had for him. They didn’t want him bringing up social issues, They wanted him to be mister rock and roll, mister pop, whatever you want to call it. But Elvis fought for that song.”
Davis said: “Elvis actually changed the lyrics. At the end of the song I just stopped with ‘in the ghetto.’ That was the end of it. Elvis added another ‘and his mama cried’ on the hand of it and it was brilliant.”
The song quickly became a staple of The King’s live shows and Mac added: “When he’d sing it there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He knew how to sell that song.”
However, the first time Davis heard the recording, he was a little put out at the way Elvis sang the famous chorus.
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Davis said: “I heard it on the radio, driving down the street. 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, you know. But that lasted about maybe five seconds, and then I realised that I had a huge hit. I knew it was going to be a really, really big hit.”
Davis’ minor quibbles quickly disappeared when the royalties cheques started to arrive: “Elvis’ picture was on a cheque. I’d never made more than $12,000 dollars a year in my life. I’d been depositing my cheques in the same bank, my little weekly salary…
“I walked in with this big old cheque with a lot of zeros on it and Elvis’ picture on it… I handed her the cheque and I said, ‘I want to deposit this and I’d like a $10,000 cashier’s cheque because I’ve got a Mercedes picked out.'”
Elvis’ girlfriend Linda Thompson revealed how Davis had originally offered the song to another major star.
She said: “He told me about one of his beloved songs ‘In The Ghetto’. Elvis said when his friend Sammy Davis Jr was given this song by a writer he turned it down. Sammy said ‘In all authenticity I can’t do this song because I never lived this way, but I will tell you who did, Elvis Presley.’
“So Mac Davis gave the song to Elvis. Elvis sang it with such authenticity and feeling because he had first-hand experience living in the ghetto… He’d experienced first hand the desperation and injustice of that kind of life. Anyone who knows the song only has to think of the recurring line, ‘And his Mama cried,’ to be reminded of the powerful love he had for his Mama.”
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