Man Smart (Woman Smarter)

Album: Calypso (1956)
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Songfacts®:

  • This calypso tune was written by Trinidadian composer Norman Span, who recorded under the name King Radio. He released the first version in 1936, but it gained widespread popularity in 1956 after it was included on Harry Belafonte's breakout album, Calypso. America was gripped by a calypso craze with several white artists bringing Caribbean flavor to their tunes, starting with the Andrews Sisters #1 hit "Rum and Coca Cola" in 1945. But the trend really took hold when Harlem-born Belafonte, with his authentic Jamaican roots, emerged with tunes like "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" and Rum and Coca-Cola."
  • Like many other songwriters, Span uses biblical stories to make his point. The song espouses that "the woman of today are smarter in every way," because they have learned how to control men through centuries of manipulation. Belafonte sings of biblical men who were led astray by women: Delilah seduced strongman Samson to discover the source of his supernatural strength ("She told them all the strength was in the hair of his head"); Adam and Eve were ousted from the Garden of Eden when she convinced him to partake of the forbidden fruit ("Eve meet snake, Paradise gone, She make Adam work from that day on"); 900-year-old Methuselah was miserable without a woman and when he found one, "the poor man never lived to see 901."

    Modern examples include the man falling for a girl at a dance only to discover she has a husband at home. His rebound romance turned out even worse:

    I was treating a girl independently
    She was making baby for me
    When de baby born and I went to see
    Eyes was blue it was not by me
  • Several other artists have recorded this, including Chubby Checker, Joan Baez, the Carpenters, Rosanne Cash, and Robert Palmer. The Grateful Dead also made it a staple of their live shows from 1981 to 1995. Most of them cut the biblical references in favor of a shorter verse about a distraught little boy:

    Little boy sat down and cried
    An old man passin' asking him why, he said
    I can't do what the big boys do
    Old man sat down and he cried too


    Most versions also change "Ever since the world began, woman was always teaching men" to "Ever since the world began, women been imitating the ways of men."
  • The cast of I Love Lucy, led by Desi Arnaz, performed this on the 1957 episode "Ragtime Band."
  • Belafonte's version was used in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988), starring Michael Keaton.

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