The song's lyrics, which Rolling Stone characterized as "almost biblicallychauvinistic", attribute all the works of modern civilization (the car, the train, the electric light) to the efforts of men, but claim that it all would "mean nothing without a woman or a girl." 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.
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 sectionarranged 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.
Christina Aguilera performed a critically acclaimed rendition of the song as a posthumous tribute to James Brown at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Her performance has been voted as the 3rd Most Memorable Grammy Performance of all time.
The cast of Glee, featuring Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) covered the song during season one's twenty-first episode, entitled "Funk", and released it as a single. Quinn was trying to represent the suppressed feeling women feel from men.
The song was covered by Mary Byrne during the first live show of series seven of The X Factor. Fellow finalist Paije Richardson had also performed it as his second audition song after judge Louis Walsh gave him a second chance following his colleague's refusal to put Richardson through to the next round.
Tom Andrews a UK YouTube contributor performed the song during The Ellen DeGeneres Show on 16th September 2010. This followed a short interview and preceded Ellen's announcement of him being the second signing to her record label eleveneleven.
Gienek Loska, the winner of the first series of Polish X Factor, sang the song several times during the season.
Shannon Noll, Australian pop/rock musician has recorded a version of the track for his upcoming fourth studio album A Million Suns