Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 7, 10 January 2015
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 21 October 2016
No Plan EP
Donny McCaslin: saxophone
Ben Monder: guitar
Tim Lefebvre: bass guitar
Jason Lindner: keyboards
Mark Guiliana: drums, percussion
‘No Plan’ was written by David Bowie for the musical Lazarus. It was first released on the play’s soundtrack album, and later became the title track of a digital download, CD and vinyl EP.
The Lazarus musical premiered in New York City on 7 December 2015 – Bowie’s final public appearance. In the play, ‘No Plan’ was performed by Sophia Anne Caruso, who also sang it on the soundtrack LP.
The lyrics find Bowie in a meditative mood, passively observing unfolding events and actions around him, choosing to accept and allow instead of intervening or obstructing.
Here, there’s no music here
I’m lost in streams of sound
Here, am I nowhere now?
Wherever I may go
Just where, just there
The words took on an added dimension after Bowie’s death. He had already touched upon the afterlife in recent songs such as ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’, and ‘No Plan’ can be viewed as a similar reflection on mortality.
We may in fact not have a purpose. Are we big enough or mature enough to accept that there’s no ‘plan’, there’s no ‘going somewhere,’ there’s no gift of immortality at the end of this if we evolve far enough? … Well, maybe we can’t live like that. Maybe we have to exist and live on the idea that we have one day at a time to live – and can we do that? Because if we could do that, we may be serving some really great thing.
Interview with Guillaume Durand, French TV, 2002
‘No Plan’ started off as a demo recording titled ‘Wistful’.
‘Wistful’ became ‘No Plan’. ‘No Plan’ existed even in 2014, during the workshop that we did. It’s quite a hard sing. It’s got a lot of long high notes. It became an audition piece for the part of Girl in Lazarus – ‘she’s gotta sing ‘No Plan’ because it’s so hard’. He was actively working on music for Lazarus the theatre piece, so it’s very possible that he wrote it specifically for the character. David had made a demo of it and it was interesting and spooky. I had a demo that had no lyrics. I still have that demo; it will not see the light of day unless I’m given permission to show that.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
In the studio
Bowie recorded ‘No Plan’ during the Blackstar sessions in early 2015. The backing track was laid down on 7 January, as were some of the lead vocals.
Bowie completed his vocals during a follow-up session three days later.
We recorded a song that didn’t make [Blackstar] which is called ‘Wistful’. It’s a ballad with a singer and just a piano player playing this arpeggiated thing. Beautiful. I don’t think he was feeling it, so he sent me another version for the March session. It was a different version – it was the piano player and a singer, and the singer had a kind of musical theatre approach for it. And I though, ‘Wow, that kind of sounds like it could be for a musical.’ And lo and behold it was!
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
‘No Plan’ was first released on 21 October 2016, on the Lazarus soundtrack album. The album contained Bowie’s version as well as Caruso’s studio rendition, and was the first release to contain previously-unheard music from the Blackstar sessions. Bowie’s versions of ‘Lazarus’, ‘No Plan’, ‘Killing A Little Time’, and ‘When I Met You’ closed the soundtrack album.
At one minute past midnight on 8 January 2017, what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday, a music video for ‘No Plan’ was released. The director was Tom Hingston, who had previously made videos for ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and Bowie’s original version of ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’.
The video was filmed on Endwell Road in Brockley, south east London. A laundrette and dry cleaners was renamed Newton Electrical, and the street sign was altered to say Foxgrove Road. This was the name of the street in Beckenham where Bowie lived in 1969, around the time of ‘Space Oddity’.
The No Plan EP was also released on 8 January 2017 as a digital download. It reached number two on the the iTunes album chart in eleven countries, and peaked at 131 on the US Billboard 200.
On 6 February 2017, Bowie’s official website store announced three physical editions of the No Plan EP: a CD version on 24 February; a black vinyl 12″ out on 21 April; and a limited edition white vinyl 12″ with an exclusive lithograph, out on 26 May. Both vinyl versions had a laser etching on the b-side.
The white vinyl version was individually numbered and made to order, priced at £36.99 plus postage. The number pressed is not known. It was housed in a die-cut sleeve designed by Jonathan Barnbrook, through which the record was visible. The 12×12″ lithograph was a photograph of Bowie by Jimmy King, housed in a generic white sleeve.
A third 12″, this time on clear blue marbled vinyl, was released on 21 April 2017 for Record Store Day, and was sold only in independent shops and online. It had the same laser etching on the b-side as the other vinyl versions.
‘No Plan’ performed by Sophia Anne Caruso, from the Lazarus Cast Recording album:
On Blackstar, David broke my heart with his death; with ‘No Plan’, he healed it. I definitely see it as a song from the other side, if you will, which, in combination with Blackstar, kind of gave me a closure that I’d not been able to find before.