Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Cover Version - Bad Lieutenant do Presley's “In the Ghetto”

a hungry little boy with a runny nose plays in the street as the cold wind blows in the ghetto

A bit of a seemingly incongruous oddity this (though not as odd as Nick Cave's version of this song back in the day!)

Yap, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner's crooning Elvis Presley’s melodramatic 1969 hit “In the Ghetto”, in a recording made by Sumner's band Bad Lieutenant a few moons back.

"In the Ghetto" was written by Mac Davis and made famous by Presley, who had a major comeback hit with it in 1969.

The stark song is a dark tale of the pains of poverty, describing a child in Chicago who can't overcome his surroundings and the chains of generational poverty. The original title was, in fact, "The Vicious Circle".

The boy grows up unwanted and neglected ("his mama cries cause if there's one thing that she don't need it's another hungry mouth to feed.")

Doomed to "grow to be an angry young man", the kid inevitably turns to crime, which ultimately leads to his death.

He steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed. Just at the moment of his killing, another child is born and doomed to the same sad situation.

“In the Ghetto” was the first song Elvis recorded with a socially-conscious message. He was reluctant to do it for that reason, but did so as he knew it would be a hit.

The song was Presley's first Top 10 hit in the US in four years, peaking at number 3. The song later appeared on the album From Elvis in Memphis.

The cover version here was recorded for a charity album 1969 Key to Change to benefit a U.K. homeless advocacy group Centrepoint - a British charity aiding young homeless people age 16 to 25. The 13-track compilation also features contributions from Jools Holland, Johnny Marr, Chris Difford and Ian Brown and more.

According to an announcement of the project on Bad Lieutenant’s website, “1969 defined a musical age, catapulting us into a new era of music and rousing a generation. It’s also the year Centrepoint was set up to help homeless young people.”

The version of “In the Ghetto” here is vibrant - anchored by acoustic guitar and featuring lovely gospel-style backing vocals. Sumner’s wispy voice, however, is miles away from the King’s iconic baritone.  

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