Although "Hang Onto Yourself" is best regarded as a mainstay of -- and is, indeed, crucial to -- his 1972 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, the song itself had been floating around for over a year before it was recorded for that album, originally appearing in vastly different form as a single by the pseudonymous Arnold Corns in 1970. Radically slowed with very different lyrics, the release drew a few bemused comparisons with the Velvet Underground, then sank into obscurity. (It subsequently resurfaced as a bonus track on Rykodisc's Man Who Sold the World reissue.) Another early version was, according to legend, recorded with rock & roll casualty Gene Vincent in 1971, although Bowie has since denied this.
The familiar Ziggy take on the song was recorded in late 1971, this time at a blistering pace, with tight, concise lyrics and a Mick Ronson guitar line to die for. An immediate highlight of both album and tours, "Hang Onto Yourself opened the show throughout 1972-1973 and kicks off both the Santa Monica 72 and Ziggy Stardust -- The Motion Picture live albums in ineffable style. The version included on the Stage concert set, however, should be avoided if at all possible. There have been several dreadful covers of this song, but Bowie's 1978 persona managed to make the worst one of all.