In the studio

The backing track of ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ was recorded at the Magic Shop studio on 21 March 2015.

It’s just an epic song. It’s a huge feeling. It’s kind of trancelike. I remember I just had this piano figure I played on the Wurlitzer that keeps going and stays consistent through the bass notes moving down. It keeps repeating and gets bigger and bigger. It’s a huge feeling.
Jason Lindner
Rolling Stone, 4 December 2015

As with the majority of the Blackstar songs, a demo recording made by David Bowie was used as a template for the studio recording.

The loop that starts the song is taken directly off of David’s demo. Similarly to ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’, the challenge was to accommodate this simple part but also interact with the rest of the guys and build the song in a spontaneous way. Donny and Ben take beautiful solos, and of course David is singing in top form.
Mark Guiliana
Modern Drummer, February 2016

The demo was also the source of the harmonica that runs through the song, which recalled ‘A New Career In A New Town’ from 1977’s Low.

Yeah, that is a harmonica. I think that actually came from off his demo. So that’s him playing.
Tony Visconti
Mojo, January 2016

The song is an ensemble masterpiece, from Donny McCaslin’s gorgeously expressive saxophone solos, to Ben Monder’s fluid guitar runs, and Jason Lindner’s layers or synth and keyboards.

On the last run, in March, Ben Monder came in on guitar. He was set up between David and Tim. I remember he sounded great on ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’. There was a sax solo, a guitar solo; there may have been a keyboard solo, too. But I love this one. I think the horn stuff that I did on this one had chords that were there on the demo. I may have added a voice or two, but in terms of the part that I played, David had it all there.
Donny McCaslin, 31 October 2015
Uncut, January 2016

Bowie sang as the backing track was recorded. Unusually, however, some of his initial vocals were retained for the final version. More vocals were laid down at Human Studios on 7 May 2015.

The release

‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ was initially released as the final song on Blackstar on 8 January 2016.

On 6 April it was promoted as a standalone digital download. A promotional CD-R was issued with a shorter 4:26 edit, which was also used for an animated video created by Jonathan Barnbrook.

The video

Barnbrook’s video was published on 6 April 2016, to coincide with the promotion of ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ as a download single.

This is really a very simple little video that I wanted to be ultimately positive. We start off in the black and white world of ★, but in the final chorus we move to brilliant colour, I saw it as a celebration of David, to say that despite the adversity we face, the difficult things that happen such as David’s passing, that human beings are naturally positive, they look forward and can take the good from the past and use it as something to help with the present. We are a naturally optimistic species and we celebrate the good that we are given.
Jonathan Barnbrook
Previous song: ‘Dollar Days’