A track that seems as if Bowie used a Waring blender to make it, “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” is set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s yet has a garish rock-show arrangement. Its title is a would-be manager’s promise of fame but it’s also advice given by St. Catherine of Siena.
—Chris O’Leary, Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog, 2015

If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!
—St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 368, circa 1380

I really like this one. Musically, it’s pure, gut-level rock’n’roll of a type that Bowie has done rarely, and done well even less. Like the best possible iteration of Tin Machine. Lyrically, I love the sheer perversity of lyrics about the Village folk scene set to such metallic backing. I mean, what could he possibly have been thinking? Why? Then again why not?
Pushing Ahead of the Dame commenter “Billter,” 2015

Midnight in the village
Seeger lights the candles
From Bitter End to Gaslight
Baez leaves the stage
Ochs takes notes
When the black girl and guitar
Burn together hot in rage

Kennedy would kill
For the lines that you’ve written
Van Ronk says to Bobby
“She’s the next real thing”
Crouched in the half light
Screaming like a banshee
You’re in the boat, babe
We’re in the water
—“(You Will) Set the World on Fire” verse lyrics, generally accepted transcription

Midnight in the village
She gonn light the candle
From vigorin to cast light
Buyers leave the stage
No twin the black of guitar
Burnt together all in a rage

Kennedy would kill
The lines you have written
Then rock says to barbie she’s the next real things
Cracks still at hell fly
Screaming like a banshee
You’re in a boat babe, we’re in the water
—“(You Will) Set the World on Fire” verse lyrics, as transcribed by Japanese website Mojim.com

Where Bowie says “You’re in the boat babel, we’re in the water” makes me think of an incident in front of my flat at the canals edge about a year or so b4 the album came out. I’d heard Bowie say he ‘loved me’ and Marianne called him a bastard or something and pushed him into the canal. There was a great commotion and people pulled him.out and I heard him say “I’m soaking”. I didn’t see what happened but it was clear from the sounds what was going on. Often I heard people, usually young women and girls getting excited and screaming “Bowie” at sight of him. He was on my tail for half his life if truth be known.
—SongMeaning.com commenter “fififi,” 2023

A candidate for the figure at the song’s hub (“the black girl and guitar/burn together hot in rage”) is the folk singer Odetta, whose manager was Albert Grossman (Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary were among his other artists) — the title line is a Grossman-type figure promising fame and immortality.
—Chris O’Leary, Ashes to Ashes, 2019

Combining this song with car race footage is totally random, and thus totally appropriate.
—Me, today