This was the final Spencer Davis Group release to feature Steve Winwood, who left to form Traffic. It was originally written for a documentary called Swinging London, but the band liked it so much they saved it for a single.
This is a different song from Bo Diddley's R&B classic number of the same name, which was later an American Top 20 hit for The Yardbirds.
The song returned to the UK Top 75 in 2008 thanks to a British television advert for the Volkswagen Polo which featured a dog singing enthusiastically to the track.
"I'm A Man" has been a hit for three different acts, the Spencer Davis Group original being followed by Chicago's 7 minutes, 40 seconds version recorded for their 1969 debut album, The Chicago Transit Authority. Released as a single it reached #8 in the UK in 1970. In the US it was originally released as the B-side to a re-release of "Questions 67 and 68." Radio stations ended up playing both sides, and it eventually peaked at #49 in 1971. Its last chart appearance came in 1989 when the Italian studio outfit Clubhouse turned it into a medley with "Ye Ke Ye Ke," which limped to #69.
In a 2003 interview with the Dutch music series Top 2000 agogo
, Winwood spoke about how this tune laid the groundwork for his subsequent band, Traffic. "We were kind of experimenting with what is now called world music - it didn't exist then - but Afro-Caribbean music which we'd been listening to," he explained. "'I'm A Man' was actually significant because it was the last Spencer Davis Group song before Traffic. So it was a significant transition because we were using these Afro-Caribbean elements in that music and then we went on in Traffic to combine that with many more elements like folk music and jazz and rock to try and combine all these elements."
Winwood shares songwriting credit with the album's producer, Jimmy Miller. Spencer Davis told Musician Magazine in 1988 how the song came together: "Lyrically, 'I'm A Man' was the brainchild of New York producer Jimmy Miller, who had a feel for the American market... and Jimi Hendrix showed me the E-7th guitar chord on the track. Steve provided the rest of the American R&B edge with his marvelous vocals and keyboards."
Keith Emerson, keyboardist of the Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, recorded a disco version for the 1981 action thriller Nighthawks, starring Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams. It's used in a key scene whre Stallone's character recognizes a terrorist at a disco club. Many of the DVD releases, however, use different music for the scene.
This was also used in these TV series:
High & Dry ("The Trial" - 2018)
Mad Men ("Time Zones" - 2014)
Moonlighting ("Tale In Two Cities" - 1987)
And it these movies:
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
Excuse Me For A Living (2012)
Chicago performed their version on Saturday Night Live on November 3, 1979.