“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is a song written by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. Brown recorded it on February 16, 1966, in a New York City studio and released it as a single later that year. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its title is a word play on the 1963 comedy film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
The song’s lyrics, which Rolling Stone characterized as “biblically chauvinistic”, attribute all the works of modern civilization (the car, the train, the boat (“Like Noah made the ark”), and the electric light) to the efforts of men, but claim that it all would “mean nothing without a woman or a girl”. The song also states that man made toys for the baby boys and girls, and comments about the fact that “Man makes money” to buy from other men. Before the song’s fade, Brown states that man is lost in his bitterness and in the wilderness. Brown’s co-writer and onetime girlfriend, Betty Jean Newsome, wrote the lyrics based on her own observations of the relations between the sexes. In later years, Newsome would claim that Brown didn’t write any part of the song and argued in court that Brown sometimes forgot to pay her royalties. In May 1966, Record World magazine reported that Brown, King Records and Dynatone Publishing were being sued by Clamike Records for alleged copyright infringement of the Betty Newsome song “It’s a Man’s World (But What Would He Do Without a Woman)”.
The composition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” developed over a period of several years. Tammy Montgomery, better known as Tammi Terrell, recorded “I Cried”, a Brown-penned song based on the same chord changes, in 1963. Brown himself recorded a demo version of the song, provisionally entitled “It’s a Man’s World”, in 1964. This version later appeared on the CD compilations The CD of JB and Star Time.
The released version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was recorded quickly, in only two takes, with a studio ensemble that included members of Brown’s touring band and a string section arranged and conducted by Sammy Lowe. A female chorus was involved in the recording sessions, but their parts were edited out of the song’s final master.
“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” became a staple of Brown’s live shows for the rest of his career. Its slow, simmering groove and declamatory vocal line made it suitable for long, open-ended performances incorporating spoken ruminations on love and loss and sometimes interpolations from other songs. It appears on almost all of Brown’s live albums starting with 1967’s Live at the Garden. Brown also recorded a big band jazz arrangement of the song with the Louie Bellson Orchestra for his 1970 album Soul on Top.
In 2004, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was ranked number 123 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.