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Elvis Presley‘s “In the Ghetto” is more of a song about poverty than a song about a mom. However, Elvis’ mother, Gladys Presley, was one of the inspirations behind the track. The writer of “In the Ghetto” explained how the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll changed the song’s lyrics for the better.

Elvis Presley’s girlfriend interpreted ‘In the Ghetto’ as being about Elvis’ mom

Linda Thompson is a songwriter who was Elvis’ girlfriend between 1972 and 1976. In her 2016 book A Little Thing Called Life, Thompson discussed “In the Ghetto. “The definitive version was, of course, recorded by Elvis, who could sing it with such authority and feeling because he had lived in the ghetto,” she wrote. “He’d experienced firsthand 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 mother,” she continued. “There was a simple goodness to Elvis’s mother that kept him humble, no matter the stratospheres of fame and wealth he achieved. He always remained aware of the greater worth of people like Gladys and the values they lived by.”

Elvis Presley changed the song to be more maternal

Thompson elaborated on Gladys’ humble origins. “Elvis told me his mother could not read or write, and that when people asked her for her autograph after he became famous, she could have only signed with an X, but she didn’t want to do that,” Thompson said. Gladys went into another room and got someone else to sign the autograph for her. Thompson attributed Gladys’ illiteracy to her Depression-era upbringing. 

Thompson called Elvis “the original mama’s boy.” That’s quite the statement, considering that boys have loved their mothers since the dawn of time. Thompson said that Elvis’ love for his mother was a good sign. In her opinion, mama’s boys tend to respect women and desire to protect them. She said Elvis regularly spoke of Gladys years after her death.

Thompson’s interpretation of “In the Ghetto” has some support from another source. Mac Davis wrote the song, as well as other Elvis tunes such as “A Little Less Conversation,” “Memories,” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.” During an interview posted to the Elvis Information Network, Davis said that it was Elvis’ idea that the lyric “And his mama cried” should appear multiple times in the song. Clearly, that line spoke to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Davis felt that Elvis changed the song for the better. In his opinion, “In the Ghetto” could have been a hit without that alteration but it was an improvement nonetheless.


How Priscilla Presley Reacted to Elvis Presley’s ‘In the Ghetto’

How ‘In the Ghetto’ performed

“In the Ghetto” became a big hit. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, staying on the chart for 13 weeks. The tune appeared on the Elvis: 30 #1 Hits. The record topped the Billboard 200 for three weeks, staying on the chart for an impressive 184 total weeks. Elvis: 30 #1 Hits is a perennial favorite because it offers longtime fans and newcomers alike a long tour of Elvis’ career.

“In the Ghetto” is a classic protest song and it wouldn’t be the same without one man’s love for his mother.