Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, “In the Ghetto”

1969 | Peak: #50

As with her take on “Imagine” decades later, Parton’s cover of the now-classic Elvis Presley single “In the Ghetto”  is fatally flawed.

In both cases,  Parton’s humanity makes the song resonate with her, but her performance indicates that she doesn’t understand the worldview that the lyrics are written from.

“Imagine” makes the case that the way to world peace is to reject religion, nationalism, and capitalism.  Parton’s self-written work demonstrates that she believes all three of those are essential.

“In the Ghetto” documents the inevitable human cost of crippling, systemic urban poverty.  Replace “urban” with “rural”, and you’re on Parton’s turf.  But the urban experience is clearly still too foreign to her at this point in her career.

Long story short:  When a multiple Hall of Famer is outsung by Eric Cartman, you know this isn’t one of her essential efforts.

Written by Scott Davis

Grade: D

Listen:  In the Ghetto



  1. Ha. I have the South Park version (Elvis’s too) on my iPod. I’d compare this with her recording of “Imagine” as well. And I think you hit it right that the lack of resonance stems mostly from it being foreign subject matter to Dolly. I don’t think her voice suits the lyrics here either.

  2. Realistically, I thought Dolly meant well by recording the song; and her rendition of it, while maybe not one of her better ones, is, in my view, better than what we might have gotten from today’s contemporary country artists.

    The problem is fairly basic: Elvis cemented it in stone; and as such, it is very hard (if not impossible) to top the King when he stretches his abilities to the limit, like he did on “In The Ghetto.”

  3. I think a ‘D’ is a bit harsh – it’s not as bad as her recording of “Imagine” (a song I’ve never liked regardless of who recorded it, be it John Lennon, Andy Williams, Dolly Parton or any of the countless other recordings I’ve heard). I’d give it a ‘C’ but she clearly is out of her element here

    I agree that Elvis cemented this one, but the writer Mac Davis, also did a pretty good job with the song

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