Category: Single of the week

Stand by your Man (Tammy Wynette)

Country songs, have always had a bit of a reputation for being tragic stories, a bit like a year’s worth of EastEnders crammed into a three-and-a-half-minute song. But, they very often tell a compelling story – sometimes funny like many Johnny Cash songs. With some of the artists, it could make you wonder as to whether the songs are autobiographical and this week’s singer is certainly one of those. Tammy Wynette, whether she wanted to or not, lived her life like one of those songs.

She grew up in poverty, had four husbands (and five weddings), was kidnapped, had a husband who sold nude pictures of her, was married to another country star (George Jones), had an affair with Burt Reynolds, and lived with drug addiction, depression, stalkers and D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Even when she died in 1998, she could not rest in peace as her daughters contested her will and wanted her body exhumed to determine the cause of death. It says it all.

Tammy, whose real name is Virginia Wynette Pugh, was born in Tremont, Mississippi in 1942 but she never knew her father as he died when she was still an infant. Being passed around like a parcel, she was brought up by various relatives who, on the whole, were quite poor and from that she learned what real poverty was. Her life didn’t really get any better, she had three children the third of which was born prematurely and suffered medical problems. The situation was made worse by her husband who decided to do a runner just before the third child was born.

Her music career began after she auditioned for a slot on the Country Boy Eddie Show in Birmingham, Alabama in 1965 which, in turn led to a chance to sing with Porter Wagoner the following year. On the strength of that she moved to Nashville in the hope of finding fame. After a number of record labels had turned her down, she was eventually signed, by Billy Sherrill, to Epic records after he was desperately looking for a singer to cover a song called Apartment No. 9. Because many of her songs were on the same theme of loneliness and broken relationships she soon earned the title, ‘First Lady of Country Music’.

Billy teamed her with David Houston and together they recorded My Elusive Dream which when released was a Country chart number one in 1967. Later that year she topped the chart with her second hit I Don’t Wanna Play House and the following year had a third number one with D.I.V.O.R.C.E. That song didn’t chart when first issued in the UK but peaked at number 12 when re-issued in 1975 on the back of her only UK number one, Stand by Your Man. Oddly, just five months later, D.I.V.O.R.C.E., a comedy cover by Billy Connolly, did make number one.

Her and Billy jointly wrote Stand by Your Man. Billy had come up with the title some months before he shared it with Tammy. When he had idea for the song and had jotted some notes on a scrap of paper which he then also shared with Tammy. She once claimed, “We wrote the song in 15 minutes and I have spent a lifetime defending it. There was no political motive, it was just a pretty love song.” Billy had a reputation for adding strings on country songs which wasn’t the norm and he also had a distinctive production style too.

Tammy, despite much encouragement, didn’t have a lot of faith in her own song writing. “I went home and played it for (future husband) George (Jones) and he didn’t like it,” she said in a 1978 interview. “He didn’t know I’d written it, so I asked him what he didn’t like and he said ‘I dunno, I just don’t care for the song.’ That kinda got me started off wrong with Stand by Your Man, but it’s grown on me now.”

The song basically tells the story of a woman who will stick by the man of her choice regardless of his behaviour and indiscretions. That would certainly appeal to all highly religious people across America and that alone would be enough to make the song a success before any promotion had been done.

Tammy saw it a slightly different way to the way a lot of the record buyers did saying, “I don’t see anything in that song that implies a woman is supposed to sit home and have babies while a man goes out and raises hell. To me it means be supportive of your man; show him you love him and you’re proud of him, and be willing to forgive him if he doesn’t always live up to your image of what he should be.”

Tammy’s 1978 autobiography took its title from this song and on page one, the first line reads, ‘The first time I met George Jones, he was in bed with another woman.’ If that doesn’t make you want to read on, nothing would.

Tammy’s last UK chart appearance came in 1991 when she was credited as featuring ‘The first lady of Country’ on the KLF number two hit Justified and Ancient. The song, which was used in the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle, earned her a Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1970 and the song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

 

Tammy’s signature tune obviously held a place close to her heart as, years later, she made it the melody for her home burglar alarm system.

No Ordinary Love (Sade)

My first memory of Sade was seeing her at Live Aid in 1985. I knew Your Love Is King, When Am I Gonna Make A Living and Smooth Operator which had already been UK hits, but knew little else about her at the time. I had to say, I thought she was boring as a live act because she just stood on this enormous stage with her head down singing fairly down tempo songs. With hindsight, I guess it must have been daunting for a fledgling act to play to the whole world at the biggest ever global televised event, but that aside, her songs are infectious and have deep meaning.

No Ordinary Love deals with the oldest and most common subject to be sung about – love, whether thriving or failing, it’s something that just about everyone can related to when its expressed in a way that hits the nerve. In a nutshell, this song encapsulates the immense sadness someone has to deal with when you are truly in love with someone and their feeling isn’t mutual.

The picture is pretty clear from the outset that the protagonist gave him everything she had in her to give. The song explains, ‘I gave you all that I have inside’ and all he did was take, ‘And you took my love’. A very one-sided love affair. The word ‘love’ in the title is the curveball. There is certainly nothing ordinary about it. She feels so deeply for him and he, seemingly, feels nothing in return.

Like Alice Cooper in the early days, Sade is a band, not a person but they took their name from part of their lead singer’s real name, Helen Folasade Adu, who was born in Ibadan, Nigeria and raised by her father who was a Nigerian economics professor and her white mother, who was an English nurse. They met in England in the mid-fifties, married and then move to Nigeria. After four years of marriage her parents separated and her mother moved back to the UK bringing Helen and her brother Banji with her. For the first few years they lived with Helen’s grandparents in Colchester and then moved to Holland-on-Sea near Clacton in 1970. Helen’s lifelong dream was to work in the fashion industry and when she was 18, she left school and went to study fashion design at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London.

After completing her three-year course, she was invited by an old school friend, Stuart Matthewman, to sing backing vocals in his newly-formed band Pride of which he was the guitarist and saxophonist. They struck up a song writing partnership and after briefly performing their own little set at Pride gigs, they left to formed their own band which included bass player Paul S. Denman and Andrew Hale on keyboards. Their debut appearance was at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in 1982 where they supported Pride.

When I saw her at Live Aid, as I mentioned earlier, it never occurred to me, then or now, that Helen was possibly nervous. “I used to get on stage with Pride, like, shaking. I was terrified,” she said. “But I was determined to try my best, and I decided that if I was going to sing, I would sing the way I speak, because it’s important to be yourself.”

Her first album, Diamond Life sold well around the world making number one in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland, in the UK it peaked at number two but life wasn’t so rosy. According to her website, she was living in a converted fire station in Finsbury Park with her then boyfriend, the style journalist, now BBC London broadcaster, Robert Elms. There was no heating, which meant that she had to get dressed in bed. The loo, which used to ice over in winter, was on the fire escape. The bath was in the kitchen: “We were freezing, basically”.

No Ordinary Love was lifted as the first single from her fourth album Love Deluxe – which came four years after her third. The single entered the chart in October 1992 and peaked at number 26, but, eight months later it re-entered the chart following its inclusion in the film Indecent Proposal that starred Demi Moore and Robert Redford and did even better peaking at number 14. A year after that it was awarded a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or a Group with Vocals.

The accompanying video begins with Helen, portrayed as a mermaid deep in the ocean singing away with no bubbles coming out of her mouth. Out of nowhere she begins making a wedding dress, dons it and then starts swimming towards the surface. As she clambers to dry land she makes her way to a bar where she’s given a drink and bizarrely adds salt to it. She leaves the bar and is seen running through dirty streets, barefooted clearly looking for Mr Right. Eventually she makes her way back to a dockyard where she perches on the quayside drinking a large bottle of water. There are occasional flashbacks to her beneath the ocean embracing and kissing a sailor which may give a slight indication as to who this song was about, but it was probably all for show.

Having said that, maybe she had a premonition; after various relationships including a marriage to a Spanish film director in 1989 , she had a son with the Jamaican music producer Bob Morgan and then in 2007 she began a relationship with Ian Watts, a former Royal Marine. Maybe it was fate after all.

Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag (Pigbag)

You know when you’ve heard the same song so many times, usually through radio saturation, you never want to hear it again? Well, this is one for me, not through radio but on one of my many visits to the Top of the Pops studio. It was a case of failure after failure. If it wasn’t the band, who were so drunk, probably after a visit to the BBC club before the recording, who kept playing all the right notes, but seemingly in the wrong order, then it was sound issues. There were about 18 run throughs of this same song that the audience were bored shitless. In the end, they had to edit various bits of various takes to make it broadcastable. Nearly 40 years on, I can listen to it again without feeling nauseas. But why did it take nearly two years after its initial release to become a hit? Let’s find out.

Pigbag formed in 1980 and comprised, James Johnstone on alto saxophone and guitar, Simon Underwood on bass, Chris Lee on trumpet, Chris Hamlin on clarinet, Mark Smith on bass, Roger Freeman on trombone, Ollie Moore on tenor and baritone saxophone and Andy Carpenter on drums.

Ollie Moore recalled how it all started for him, “My father wanted me to learn the clarinet whilst at Bristol Grammar School, and my Uncle, who played clarinet in the London Symphony Orchestra, sourced a reasonable student model for me to play. I still remember the pleasing smell of the instrument in its furry case with its cork and woodiness. Any pleasant associations with this intriguing instrument were soon to be dashed by an abusive, bad-tempered teacher called Mr Stone. I was 12 years old and he was a lumbering figure of a man who stood at about six foot three and wore a suit several sizes too small for him. He also drove a three-wheeled Reliant Robin car, in which he looked ridiculous. A bulging leather briefcase completed the dishevelled look. He would correct my mistakes with a thrust of the base of the clarinet upwards against my teeth. If I made a squeak or played a wrong note, his face bulged and turned puce in colour, as if he were about to burst a blood vessel, as he spat angry words in disgust at my incompetence. Consequently after a few lessons with this monstrous man, I stopped going altogether.”

Simon Underwood had been a member of The Pop Group, he became disillusioned with the band and wanted to move on. “In the spring of 1980 I was jamming with Simon, and we had been put in touch with some guys in Cheltenham who had heard that Simon had left The Pop Group and asked if he would be interested in playing with them,” Ollie continued. “We would go up to Cheltenham and play in a place called Beech House in a room with black walls. Sadly, early recordings from these sessions were lost from an Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder. These sessions were where Papa… was born and it would go on for about 20 minutes in a frenzy of percussion, including frying pans and horns!”

The track was actually written by Chris Hamlin and James Johnstone despite the label credit saying Pigbag. But as Ollie stated, “It’s important to say that the song was written collectively, that was always the way we worked as a band as everyone had an equal input to the music that evolved. I think it’s fair to say that Pigbag, the band, and Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag were inseparable in many people’s view.

Most of them were not fully trained and qualified musicians, “We were still raw, rough, self-taught musicians, high on energy. We didn’t have a grasp of bar lengths and sections, so when it came to recording the solos it was decided that Roger would stand in front of us with a stopwatch and after one minute of free-blowing he signalled us to end.”

Dick O’Dell was the former manager of The Pop Group and once O’Dell realised that Underwood had formed a new group he signed them to his Y record label. He had already signed The Slits and Pigbag’s live debut was supporting The Slits. Their repertoire that night was a very extended version of their one song.

The song’s title is just a play on James Brown’s 1965 hit Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag and failed to chart when first released in 1981, “After about a year of being number one in the indie chart, it was deleted and then re-released,” Johnson explained to Kieron Tyler, “the back order then propelled it straight into the pop chart.” A John Peel session also played its part in its top 10 chart position.

While heading towards the top 10, an invitation came for Top of the Pops, “Roger Freeman left the band in protest about going on that show,” Johnstone recalled, “Top of the Pops was shit though. We got banned from the show and escorted from the studios after what they said was misbehaving on the end-of-year line up. The band chose not to go mainstream, “EMI offered us money,” Johnstone continued, ” but we told them where to stick it.”

At one gig, they were supporting The Specials, “We were very nervous to be playing in front of a huge crowd of mods and Skinheads and ended up playing at nearly twice the tempo,” Ollie recalled, “Jerry Dammers was grinning at the side of the stage, encouraging us on. We were on for about 25 minutes.

After a couple of numbers one of the youths at the front shouted ‘Oi, what’s the name of the band? The single wasn’t in the charts at this time. James Johnstone leant forward and politely said, ‘Pigbag.’ What? Pigshit? We were then met with chants of ‘PIGSHIT’ after each number. I think they enjoyed it really though.”

By 1983, the band were running out of steam and seemed to lose direction. “We had turned soft, lost direction and got bored etc etc, the early days were so exciting – but it couldn’t last long,” Johnstone accepted.

Reet Petite (Jackie Wilson)

Whenever the name Berry Gordy is mentioned in music circles most people would immediately think Motown, which is absolutely right, but prior to establishing Detroit’s most successful record label, Gordy made a bit of a name for himself as a songwriter and this week’s suggestion is arguably his most famous. In addition to Reet Petite, Gordy also co-wrote, with Billy Davis under his pen name Tyran Carlo the follow ups To Be Loved and Lonely Teardrops and the royalties from those songs allowed him to launch his new label. It also gave him good business sense and made him understand the value of the money from royalties when your name is on the label and often worked it in his favour.

Reet Petite was made famous in 1957 by Jackie Wilson who initially, as a teenager, wanted to be a boxer but decided on music in the end, possibly realising it was easier to get the girls in the music business. This is something Wilson made a habit of and earned himself a shady reputation with the way he treated his female company, but that is for another day. It’s his music I am concentring on here. He regularly performed in local talent contests around Detroit and often played on the competition especially with his cousin Levi Stubbs who later became the lead singer of the Four Tops. On the occasions when Stubbs won, Wilson was often known to have said, “You win this week, I’ll win next week.”

Jackie Wilson, who was born in 1934, continued performing at the amateur night talent shows until at the age of 17 he was signed to Dee Gee Records, a small label that was co-owned by the jazz trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. Whilst there he recorded two singles under the name Sonny Wilson. He then joined the doo-wop group, Billy Ward & The Dominoes, and although he and Ward had disagreements (Jackie decided to sleep with Ward’s fiancé), he displayed his vocal gymnastics on the US hit, St. Therese Of the Roses in 1956. A British cover version by Malcolm Vaughan reached number three, but may have got to number one if it hadn’t been banned by the BBC on the grounds that it was contrary both to Roman Catholic doctrine and to Protestant sentiment. Malcolm later recorded a cover of Wilson’s To Be Loved and it made number 14.

When Jackie left The Dominoes, he befriended Berry Gordy and his cousin, Billy Davis, who gave him songs beginning with Reet Petite which the label mysteriously added ‘From the Sweetest Girl in Town’ under the title indicating it came from a movie, but there was no such movie, on the 1986 re-issue, however, it became part of the title in parenthesis. It was a contemporary phrase for a good-looking girl. It had been written as a simple boogie-woogie but Dick Jacobs’s colourful orchestration added brass passages and horn stabs. “It didn’t bother Jackie,” said Billy, “There was no way of overpowering him.'” The title was taken from the 1947 film Reet, Petite and Gone, which starred Louis Jordan and an all-black cast. “The rolling of the R’s was particularly distinctive,” David continued, “but when Jackie did it on stage, whilst as a support act to Dinah Washington, he blew his front teeth out: ‘I’ll never sing that again,’ he said, and he never did.”

Berry Gordy and Billy Davis were cheated out of royalties and decided to start their own projects. Berry Gordy started Tamla-Motown, and though Billy Davis worked with him from time to time, he established his own career, producing Fontella Bass’ Rescue Me and co-writing I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.

Unfortunately, Wilson didn’t have a good reputation and an overview of his life was pretty disastrous. He was known to be short-tempered and very promiscuous and in the early 60s he was accused of sexually assaulting Patti LaBelle whilst backstage at a Brooklyn theatre in New York – a claim Patti made in her autobiography.

He assaulted a police officer whilst on stage once when some fans clambered on stage and when the police officer allegedly shoved a female fan, Wilson assaulted him. Soon after Wilson was shot by one of his girlfriends when he returned from a gig with another woman. He also failed to pay his taxes nor child support money and in 1964, in order to avoid arrest for the tax offence, he jumped out of a second-floor window of the theatre he had been performing in. His personal life was remarkably tragic too, he was married twice and had six children altogether. Two of them died under tragic circumstances and quite young – his 16-year-old son was shot and killed on a neighbour’s front porch.

On 29 September 1975, Wilson was performing at Dick Clark’s Good Ol’ Rock and Roll Revue in New Jersey when he suffered a massive heart attack on stage. He fell down and hit his head. Apart from a couple of brief reprieves, he never really regained consciousness and remained pretty much in a coma for nine years until his death January in 1984 at the age of 49. He was being buried like a pauper with no headstone, just the marker B261.

In the mid-80s, Levi’s Jeans used a number golden of oldies in their television ad campaigns and Reet Petite was one of them. Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Sam Cooke’s Wonderful world were also used and they became hits all over again. All three acts had passed, both their estates benefitted well. For the ad, Giblets, a London-based animation team produced a brilliantly inventive claymation to accompany the song. It was screened on the BBC’s Arena programme and it so well received that it was picked up by SMP records who re-issued it and it shot to the top of the chart to become the Christmas chart-topper of 1986 – some 29 years after its first appearance. A record at the time.

Thanks to its new-found success, there is now a headstone with the epitaph, No more Lonely Teardrops at his resting place, the Westlawn Cemetery near Detroit.

Van Morrison paid tribute to him by writing and recording the song Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) which failed to chart until a cover by Dexy’s Midnight Runners took it into the top five in 1982. Two years later, Michael Jackson paid his own tribute by dedicating his Album of the Year Grammy for Thriller to him at the 1984 Grammy Awards ceremony.

Act Naturally (The Beatles)

Every one of the 23 legitimate Parlophone-issued Beatles’ songs between 1963 and 1970 were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the only one that wasn’t was Something which was written by George Harrison. Only a couple of later issued old tracks – Baby It’s You and Twist and Shout were covers and hence written by other people. It’s hard to imagine many other well-known Beatles songs that were not written by the band themselves, but there were a few in their very early days and one, which is probably not so well known as a cover was Act Naturally which appeared on their 1965 album Help! Additionally, it was one of a handful of songs of which neither John or Paul sang lead.

This song was the Beatles’ penultimate of their 24 non-original official recordings. The song’s idea came from a Californian songwriter called Johnny Russell who was raised in Fresno and had entered, and won, a number of talent shows and began playing small clubs in his local area. One night he was due to be dating a girl when he got a call from some friends from Oklahoma, “They were doing a recording session in Los Angeles and they wanted me to come down and help them,” he explained to Ace Collins. “There was no getting out of it, so I had to break the date with the girl. She asked me why I was going to L.A. so I answered, ‘They are going to put me in a movie and make a big star out of me.’ We both laughed.”

On his journey there he thought about the glamorous idea of being made into a movie star in Hollywood so he began playing a riff and trying to turn the idea into a country song. “I wrote the song and I even tried to teach it to the boy we were recording with, but he couldn’t seem to learn it,” Russell remembered. “I sent a copy to a producer I had worked with and he turned it down explaining that songs about the movies just weren’t doing the business. He suggested writing a song about heartbreak.” Russell wasn’t convinced as so many songs were about heartbreak and believed his own idea was unique and thought it was a spin on being in love. He had been working with a female songwriter called Voni Morrison, “I played it to her and she fell in love with it”, he said. “She thought the song would be ideal for a country singer she had been working with called Buck Owens.”

Owens did like the song and did record it originally in 1963. Russell was grateful and, “we made an agreement that whatever we wrote, both of our names would go on the song. We made an acetate of five of our songs with both of us credited and she gave them all to Buck to record. After a few weeks, Morrison called Russell to say that Buck liked four of the songs, but not Act Naturally. Owens’ backing group were called the Buckaroos which comprised, Don Rich on guitar, Tom Brumley on pedal steel guitar, bassist Doyle Holly and drummer Willie Cantu. Luckily Don Rich had heard Act Naturally and kept humming and singing it to himself whilst they toured because he loved it. Before long, Owens began humming it and it grew on him. Russell explained how he found out that Owens was finally going to record it, “I was in a hotel club in a city called Eureka in California one night when I got a call from Buck and he asked if he could record the song. I told him it was fine by me. I later found out that he had already recorded it and just wanted the publishing rights which I was more than pleased to do in order to get the song recorded.”

The song is basically saying if it was possible to make a film about a man who is lonely and sad and that he would be ideal for the part if he just acted naturally. As the song is quite up-tempo, it seems that it could be hiding his pain. Could this have been a slight inspiration on Smokey Robinson when he wrote The Tears of a Clown which itself was based on the clown in the opera Pagliacci?

Owens went to number one on the US country chart giving him his first of 21 number ones and eventually became one of his most popular songs. Ringo Starr is a country music fan and took lead vocal to showcase the track. They played it on their third Ed Sullivan Show appearance and it was released as a single in the States as a double A side with Yesterday, but Act Naturally stalled at number 47.

In 1956, Owens recorded the original version of Hot Dog under the alias Corky Jones which became the first UK hit for Shakin’ Stevens. In 1964, he also recorded the original version of Cryin’ Time which became a hit for Ray Charles. In 1989, he re-recorded his song as a duet with Ringo.

Owens often tells this story, “I was at the Royal Gardens Hotel in London and Mick Jagger walked in and ordered his meal. He noticed that I was wearing a baseball cap with Nashville on and asked me if I was in the music business. I told him I was a songwriter and he asked if I’d written anything he might know. I replied that the Beatles had cut Act Naturally, before I could finish the title, Mick grinned and began singing it, he knew it all.

Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and died in March 2006 aged 76.

In the Ghetto (Elvis Presley)

Elvis Presley is the biggest-selling musical act in chart history. some 44 years after his death he is still having hit albums which the record companies are still cobbling together and fans are still buying. His most recent album was in 2020 when From Elvis In Nashville spent one week on the chart. There are various Best Of’s and Greatest Hits that keep popping into the chart with regular monotony too and his songs, mostly hit singles, are still being streamed in their droves. His biggest selling physical single that people actually owned is It’s Now or Never and his most streamed song – the one that people have listened to most times is Can’t Help Falling in Love. Two songs in the all-time top 10 most streamed are A Little Less Conversation (with JXL) at number five and In the Ghetto at number 10 – both were written by Mac Davis.

In 2002, when the DJ/remixer Junkie XL chose to remix an obscure Elvis album track, he probably didn’t think it would be as successful as it was. Having run it past the powers that be at Elvis Presley’s estate, the go-ahead would only be given if he agreed to amend his name as the estate didn’t want a track released with Elvis’ name on it alongside the word Junkie. It didn’t fit with Elvis’ image, so he shortened it to JXL. It entered the UK chart at number one on week ending 22nd June 2002, the only thing is that no one had told the writer about it. So how did Mac Davis find out?

He explained how he found out in an interview with Bob Herbertson, “I was at home and I got a call from (DJ and song writer) Bobby Tomberlin one day who said, ‘Hey, congratulations, on your hit’, I said, ‘what hit?’, he said, ‘your Elvis record’ and I said, ‘what Elvis record?’ and he said, ‘A Little Less Conversation’, I said, ‘Man, that was about 35 years ago’, he replied, ‘No, it’s number one in England right now.’ Man, I couldn’t believe it. I knew they’d used the original version as part of a montage in the film Oceans 11 which someone told me about after it had been released. Bobby said, ‘They used it in the Nike commercials’, I couldn’t believe it, all of a sudden, I had one of the biggest hits of my career. Typically, I was the last guy to find out.”

Of all the songs Elvis recorded of course he had favourites and two of them were If I Can Dream and In the Ghetto which he had stated in numerous interviews. The first time he heard the demo of In the Ghetto, Elvis said, “That’s my song”. Mac Davis explained how it came about, “Well, it’s a convoluted story, but it’s a true one. I had been trying to write a song called The Vicious Circle for what seemed like ages. The word Ghetto was just becoming popular to describe urban areas where poor people were living and couldn’t get out and were stuck there and unable to get out into the suburbs. As for the vicious circle, well I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy and he was a black kid and we were good buddies. He lived in a different part of town and I couldn’t work out why he lived where he lived and we lived where we lived. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we also didn’t have broken bottles every six inches in the dirty street ghetto where he lived. Anyway, I always wanted to write a song about where a kid is born and doesn’t have a male parent, then falls in with the wrong people and dies and then another kid comes along and replaces him. The next day a buddy of mine, Freddy Weller came over and showed me a guitar lick he’d picked up from Joe South. Later that night I played that lick and started singing in the ghetto and by about two o’clock in the morning I had finished writing the song.”

Mac didn’t just leave it there, in the middle of the night he wanted to tell someone, “So I called up Freddy and sung him the song down the phone. At the end there was a long silence, he used a few foul curse words and hung up the phone. I found out the next day that he wasn’t upset with me, he was just mad that he didn’t get to write part of that song.”

So how did Elvis get to record it? “Well, I’d written a song called Memories for what was later known as his comeback special,” Davis continued, “While that song was going up the chart, his company called and asked if I had anything else as they were going to Memphis to record with [producer] Chips Moman. I told them I had 19 songs on a tape recorder that I’d laid down with just the guitar. The first song was In the Ghetto and the second song was Don’t Cry Daddy and they ended up recording both of them for that album.”

The song reached number three on Billboard and number two in the UK unable to unseat Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. In 1991, the record producer had called on recording engineer Al Schmitt to create a duet with Natalie Cole singing Unforgettable with her late father Nat and resulted in a UK top 20 hit. In August 2007, to mark the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death, his daughter, Lisa-Marie, recorded a duet of In the Ghetto in the same way. She said, “I wanted to use this for something good,” and although never a hit all proceeds went to the Elvis Presley Foundation.

Many have recorded a cover version including Dolly Parton, Solomon Burke, Bobbie Gentry, Sammy Davis, Jr, Candi Staton, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Marilyn Manson, The Cranberries and Beats International who just missed the top 40 in 1991.

Mac Davis did have a minor hit of his own, Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me reached number 29 in 1972 and the follow-up came exactly eight years later when It’s Hard to be Humble peaked two places higher. Elvis’ A Little Less Conversation was Davis’ second UK number one – It’s Hard to Be Humble’s eponymous parent album contained a song called I Wanna Wake Up with You which Boris Gardiner took to number one in 1986.

Davis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and his clever and straight forward song writing has continued to inspire new and up and coming artists. He was the co-writer on the song Young Girls on Bruno Mars’ album Unorthodox Jukebox and was also a co-writer on Avicii’s Addicted to You both in 2012, “It made me feel like I’m still viable at the ripe old age of 73,” he said at the time. “I try to tell the truth and hope it rhymes,” he added.

Davis passed away in September 2020 and was honoured at the Country Music Awards (CMAs) ceremony by Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire who performed In the Ghetto as a duet.