A number of reviewers have queried what "sex is on fire" means, with many opting for burning venereal disease. Lead vocalist Caleb Followill joked on his record label's website that "there's always been an element of sex in our music, so I thought I'd just wrap it all up in one song and be done with the sex for the rest of the record." When The Sun newspaper September 19, 2008 asked Followill what exactly this song is about, the singer replied: "It's about a great sexual relationship with hot, hot sex that you remember for ever."
This song, along with the rest of the album, was produced by the band's longtime producer Angelo Petraglia and Nashville-based producer/engineer Jacquire King, who also mixed their 2004 album Aha Shake Heartbreak.
The video was directed by Sophie Muller, whose credits include "Smile
" by Lily Allen and "Grace Kelly
" by Mika. Caleb told MTV News: "I'm seeing things that are not really going on, and I'm seeing them do wacky things. And the things that I'm seeing make it look like I'm a pervert and I'm attracted to my family." His bassist brother Jared added: "If we didn't have so much trust in Sophie's previous work, we never would have picked up a treatment that has Caleb getting crazy on a bed and me chasing a chicken."
Caleb explained in the album's publicity materials the album title. He said: "To me it sounds like the Kings of Leon are back not only as a band, but as friends. Every night after recording we'd go to a bar together, hang out and talk about what we were going to do the next day, rather than all of us going to our separate homes. It was really a big family vibe. That's where the title comes from. It's also a reference to a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and it has five syllables, like all of our album titles."
Caleb told The Sun that he was surprised the record label picked this as lead single from Only By the Night. Said the lead vocalist: "I can't believe the label picked it because the lyrics are pretty in-your-face sexual. I think my girlfriend hopes it's based on her. Maybe it is my girlfriend because we've had some good times together... but I'm not really sure." The reason for Caleb's uncertainty, regarding to whom the lyrics were directed to, is that he penned them through a haze of prescription painkillers. He was taking them as a result of an injury to his shoulder, following a fight with one of his brothers.
This became the southern US band's first ever UK #1. It was a surprise chart-topper as the Kings of Leon's previous highest position had been "Fans
," which peaked at #13 in 2007.
Caleb wrote all the album's lyrics whilst on painkillers. Drummer Nathan Followill recalled to The Sun: "Caleb would call me, saying, 'Dude, you gotta come over and check out this song I wrote'. I would go over, listen, and say, 'Okay, cool, when did you write that? It's amazing'. He's like, 'I have no idea. I just woke up and my songbook was open. I guess I wrote it last night'. They'd put him on Vicodin and he was like a vegetable."
Caleb added: "They were pretty serious meds. The prescription said I should take a lot more than I was taking but I just couldn't do it. It was too much. But whenever I was taking them, I felt good. As soon as I started to come down, I was supposed to take another. After a while, I felt trapped. There was nothing to do and everything was kind of boring so I'd just write songs and, in the process, I really expanded my mind."
Caleb told NME magazine that he came to dumping this song without completing it. He explained: "I just had this melody and I didn't know what to say. Then one day I just sang 'this sex is on fire' and I laughed. I thought it was terrible, but the rest of the band were like, 'it's good, it's got a hook.' I was like, 'f--- off!' but I ended up writing it."
This was Kings of Leon's first ever #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Their only previous entry on that tally had been "The Bucket
," which peaked at #23 in April 2005.
Nathan told Robbie, Marieke and The Doctor of the Australian radio station Triple J that the song's lyrical content was originally just intended to be filler. He explained: "They were just kind of dummy lyrics. Depending on whether a song starts with a melody or starts with lyrics, you know if it starts with a melody you just keep playing the melody over and over until you get it down and just throw in any lyrics that fit the verbal flow. Sex On Fire was just kind of a little lyric just to fill in to kill some time until we could actually write something that wasn't about sex and fire."
This reached #1 in several other countries apart from the UK, including Australia, Ireland and Finland.
This was certified as the biggest selling download single ever in the UK in March 2009, surpassing 547,000 online sales.
This won a Grammy for Best Rock Duo or Group With Vocal.
This song's international success made Kings of Leon superstars. The Daily Mirror June 12, 2009 asked Caleb if he thought this song would be the one? He replied: "For that to be the song that broke through in so many different territories is strange, but I think it goes back to people being tired of hearing songs with a serious vibe. People were tired of hearing about the war and politics, and Sex On Fire is a song about sex and young kids."
Country duo Sugarland covered this song on their LIVE on the Inside, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 on the chart dated August 22, 2009. That same week, Only By the Night was also in the top 10 resulting in this song achieving the rare feat of appearing on two albums, by two artists, in the top 10 simultaneously.
Speaking to Q magazine, Caleb Followill revealed how the track was initially meant to be a "funny" song: "At first, I was like, 'That was supposed to be like a funny moment on the album,'" he said. "I've always had funny moments on albums where I goof-off a little bit and that was one of those moments."
Followill added: "To see how successful it became was like, 'Whoa, this is not what I expected.' But I look back now with nothing but pride."