In the studio
The backing track for ‘Lazarus’ was recorded on 3 January 2016. The final version was the second take, plus overdubs.
I remember that we played a really nice first take – everyone played very musically, but politely. David said something like, ‘Great, but now let’s really do it.’ He was always pushing us. The version on the record is the next take, where we are all taking a few more chances. The intro didn’t exist on his demo, but after the first take we kept playing and Tim started playing this beautiful line with the pick, which David liked and thought it would make for a nice into. He was very much in the moment crafting the music.
Modern Drummer, February 2016
The high notes in the introduction were played by bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre.
It’s kind of funny, but I came up with the intro to ‘Lazarus’. Actually, the end part is what I came up with first. With Donny’s band, that’s what we do: just space out at the end. So I was just doing this picking thing at the end. I’m a big fan of this band Fink, and their guitar parts are like that where they move roots around. After I played it, they said, “Why don’t you do that at the beginning, too?” So I did it at the beginning, too, and it became the thing. Anybody that has heard my playing has heard me do that five billion times. [laughs]
No Treble, 14 January 2016
The core Blackstar band were joined by guitarist Ben Monder during the third and final set of recording sessions for the backing tracks, in March 2015.
I looked forward to every day in the studio. Nothing was done recalling the past. There was one part where we were overdubbing just for the guitar tone. I forget what song, maybe ‘Lazarus’. I had to inform Ben Monder how Mick Ronson would have done it and he looked at me blankly. I think he’d heard of Mick Ronson but he’d never studied him. It was interesting, teaching a jazz guy how to play rock! And Ben is very jazz. Extremely jazz. Very dark jazz.
Mojo, January 2016
With the backing complete, David Bowie recorded his vocals at Human Studios. The sessions took place on 23 and 24 April 2015, and 7 May.
Bowie also added electric guitar to the song during overdub sessions for the album. The power chords heard after the opening line, as well as the clanging notes towards the end of the song, were played on a sunburst Fender Stratocaster. The instrument was given to him by Marc Bolan just weeks before Bolan’s death. Bowie had used the instrument when they duetted on the Marc show in September 1977.
The intro and outro on ‘Lazarus’ are the kind of thing we’ve done as a team live a lot. Little subtle touches between myself and Mark and Jason came through in the record quite a bit. It’s subtle, but it’s there if you pay attention.
No Treble, 14 January 2016
‘Lazarus’ was released as a digital download on 17 December 2015, the same day it received its world premiere on BBC Radio 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq show. It was 44 years to the day after the release of Bowie’s Hunky Dory album.
The song topped the singles chart in Poland, and entered the top 10 in Belgium, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, and on the USA’s Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart. It reached number 40 in the US Billboard Hot 100, and in the UK it peaked at 45.
On 8 January 2017, Sony Records in Japan released a 12″ red vinyl single, with ‘Blackstar’ on one side, and the radio edit of ‘Lazarus’ and ‘I Can’t Give Anything Away’ on the b-side. This was sold exclusively at the David Bowie Is exhibition in that country.
‘Lazarus’ was also the lead song on Bowie’s No Plan EP, released posthumously on 8 January 2017.