The first single from Jack White's second solo album, the song also serves as its title track. The record takes its name from the quarantine stations built for maritime travelers between the 15th and 19th centuries. White told The Observer he is so busy these days that the idea of such a place became almost exotic: "I fantasise about living in one-room apartments and being in a work camp somewhere, where there's absolutely nothing around me but a cot and a teapot and a sink," he said.
A limited edition 7-inch of the song was recorded, pressed and released in 3 hours, 55 minutes and 21 seconds, breaking the world record for the world's fastest released disc. Swiss polka trio Vollgas Kompanie, previously held the record when they issued their album Live one day after they recorded it.
The B-side of the single is a cover of Elvis Presley's song "Power of My Love."
The song features some Spanish lyrics: "Yo trabajo duro, como en madera y yeso," roughly translates to "I work hard, like in wood and plaster." White explained his use of Spanish to NPR: "The character who's singing this song is bragging about himself, but he's actually bragging about real things he's actually accomplished and real things that he actually does, not imaginary things or things he would like to do," he said. "Because sometimes you see people who, they sing from the heart, but they haven't done anything, you know? And their lives are not very interesting or whatever. So this character in this song actually has worked very hard in his life and he's done some interesting things."
You can't sing a lyric like 'I work hard,'" White added. "You can't get away with saying it. So I had to change it to Spanish: 'Yo trabajo duro.' 'I work hard, like in wood and plaster.' There's sort of a triple meaning, that wood and plaster are hard surfaces — as in a painter who 'works in oils.' It's sort of bad Spanish, because you wouldn't say como [to mean] 'as in.'"
Some of Lazaretto's lyrics were inspired by short stories and plays White wrote when he was 19 after he'd dropped out of Wayne State University. He came across the box containing his prose in his attic and though much of it was embarrassing, the odd phrase and character was salvageable. "I thought, 'What if you write a song with yourself?' Collaborate with your 19-year-old self on a song," White told The Observer, before quipping: "And don't give him any royalties."
Lazaretto topped the Billboard 200 albums chart in its debut week. The vinyl LP version also sold 40,000 copies in its first seven days, setting the record for the largest sales week for a vinyl album since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.
The vinyl LP's high sales were helped by its unique features, which include including hidden tracks under the inner label, the ability to play the album at three different speeds and holograms that appear on the record's surface when it's being played.
Jack White held onto the record until the vinyl release of Taylor Swift's Evermore album on May 28, 2021. Swift's LP racked up over 40,000 sold in the US in its first three days meaning its surpassed Lazaretto's sales figures in under half a week.
This won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance at the 2015 ceremony.
In tribute to Eddie Van Halen, who died four days earlier, Jack White performed this on the October 10, 2020 Saturday Night Live episode with a cobalt blue guitar Eddie designed for him. White further paid tribute by ripping a finger-tapping guitar solo, a technique that was popularized by the late axeman.