Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 25 July; 27 September 2012
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Engineers: Mario McNulty, Tony Visconti
Released: 8 March 2013
The Next Day
Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums, tambourine
Gail Ann Dorsey, Janice Pendarvis: vocals
‘(You Will) Set The World On Fire’ is the twelfth song on David Bowie’s 24th and penultimate studio album The Next Day.
Bowie presents a series of character sketches throughout The Next Day, the most on any Bowie album. The majority are fictitious, while others have clear historical roots. In the latter camp is ‘(You Will) Set The World On Fire’, which harks back to the early 1960s Greenwich Village clubs where Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and Dave Van Ronk rubbed shoulders and rewrote the rules of folk music.
[It’s] about a young female singer who gets discovered in a nightclub in the 1960s. Does she set the world on fire? It’s not about anybody specific, but a couple of people who sang alongside Dylan.
The Times, 12 January 2013
In Bowie’s list of 42 words to illuminate the themes on The Next Day were three for ‘(You Will) Set The World On Fire’: Manipulate, Origin, Text. The first of these is intriguing, suggesting that the “black girl and guitar” of the song was being used by her peers and the music industry, or that she became – as had Bowie himself – an arch manipulator. Possibly both interpretations are correct.
In the studio
We were sitting in the control room of the studio, listening to ‘(You Will) Set The World On Fire’, and David says: ‘Man, that track would be great live.’ I looked at him, but before I could even answer, he goes: ‘Don’t even think about it.’
The Guardian, 2 July 2021
The backing track for ‘(You Will) Set The World On Fire’ was recorded on 25 July 2012, during the third major bout of sessions for The Next Day, at the Magic Shop studio in New York. David Bowie’s long-term collaborators Earl Slick and Sterling Campbell were brought in to play guitar and drums respectively, and Tony Visconti played bass guitar.
When you’ve been working with somebody that long, even when you haven’t seen them for a while, you fall back into the routine in a heartbeat. The first thing that me, David, Sterling Campbell and Tony Visconti did was cut three brand new tracks from scratch. One is a mid-tempo cool thing, then we did a couple of rockers. I overdubbed ‘Set The World On Fire’ later. The key to any rock record, especially one of David’s, is spontaneity. I’d get a take on a song straight away, whether it reminded me of Station To Station or Scary Monsters or whatever. From a guitar point of view there were a few songs that just hit me and David, that needed a kind of Keith Richards rhythm. I ended up just doing what came naturally and it worked.
Uncut, April 2013
The song was completed during a final set of overdub sessions for vocals and additional instruments. Bowie recorded his lead vocals on 27 September 2012.