Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 8, 11 November 1971
Producers: Ken Scott, David Bowie
Released: 16 June 1972
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Mick Ronson: electric guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
Originally recorded with his short-lived band Arnold Corns, ‘Hang On To Yourself’ was later re-recorded for David Bowie’s breakthrough album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
The guitar riff bears a debt to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane’ and Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’. The repeated ‘Come on’ refrain in the chorus harked back to Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’, Chuck Berry’s ‘Come On’, and The Beatles’ ‘Please Please Me’.
Bowie taped a multitrack demo of ‘Hang On To Yourself’ on his first US trip, while staying with RCA executive Tom Ayres in Hollywood. He gave the recording to Ayres to pass on to Gene Vincent, who was also recording demos at Ayres’ studio.
On a promotional trip to the US in January 1971, I was very kindly offered a room to crash in by the record producer Tom Ayers. At the time, Tom was producing one of the all time rock heroes, Gene Vincent. One night, at the recording studio, Tom asked whether I would like to jam or sing something with Gene. At that point, I had already written ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’. We settled on ‘Hang On To Yourself’ and made a ghastly version of it which is floating around somewhere on eBay, I expect. I went on to explain that Ziggy wasn’t going to be a real rock star and that I would play him. I think they all thought I was talking in terms of a musical. It’s possible that I was; it’s now hard to remember what direction I had expected him to go. Zig rather grew as he grew, if you know what I mean.
Listening to the Tom Ayers demo now, I can’t hear a trace of Vincent anywhere on it, though Tom’s son (who sent it to me) assures me that his dad swore Gene was on it. Gene left his mark on Ziggy in one other way, though. Back in the Sixties, Vincent was to co-star with Little Richard on a whirlwind package tour of the UK. Someone forgot to get his work permit together so he was not allowed to sing from the stage itself. To get over this, he sang his spot from the aisle. Ludicrous but very exciting for us fans. At the time, Vincent had been wearing a leg brace, the result of a car accident. It meant that to crouch at the mike, as was his habit, he had to shove his injured leg out behind him to, what I thought, great theatrical effect. This rock stance became position number one for the embryonic Ziggy. Mick Rock captured that well on many occasions, the best version appearing on the back of the Pin Ups album.
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On 14 February 1971 Bowie attended a number of Valentine’s Day parties in Hollywood, accompanied by DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and Rolling Stone writer John Mendelsohn. At one of the parties, held at attorney Paul Feigen, Bowie sat cross-legged on a waterbed and performed ‘All The Madmen’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Amsterdam’, and ‘Hang On To Yourself’. Bingenheimer recorded the performance, which was partly played on his radio show in the 1990s.
In early 1971, I was working for Mercury Records in LA and took Bowie around Hollywood. We stayed at my friend Tom Ayres’ house. I remember Gene Vincent being there and Bowie writing the lyrics for ‘Hang On To Yourself’ and talking about the Ziggy character. He was talking about making it into a stage play. I think LA was a culture shock for Bowie. His mind was blown, everything was so big and bright. But it was a culture shock for others, too, because he was wearing a dress, the same one from the cover of The Man Who Sold The World. One party was at [socialite and columnist] Dianne Bennett’s house and [Warhol acolyte] Ultra Violet was there, in a milk bath. Bowie sat on the bed and played stuff from Hunky Dory and Ziggy on acoustic guitar. Everyone loved it.
Uncut, March 2008
Bowie recorded a full band version of ‘Hang On To Yourself’ upon his return to England. This was with Arnold Corns, the short-lived prototype for the Ziggy Stardust concept.
The session took place on 25 February 1971 at Radio Luxembourg’s London studio.
What became Arnold Corns was a band called Rungk, which was me and two fellow students at Dulwich College. David was a neighbour. He lived across the street; I used to do stuff at his folk club – I probably had more equipment than he did. After The Man Who Sold The World flopped, David was having arguments with his label, and was writing all this stuff and wanted to get some of it down; he just wanted to get it out there around his current contracts.
After The Man Who Sold The World the band all left, but I was still there across the street. He thought, ‘I can do this with a load of public schoolboys’ – he loved it, and he wanted Freddie Buretti to front it up. Freddie had been around for a bit. I said to David, ‘Freddie can dance and he can pose, but he cannot sing.’ The first one, ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’, is Rungk, bass, drums and guitar – I play a bit of piano on it – and David singing. Freddie, also known as Rudi Valentino, he made the cosrumes but he didn’t have a great set of tonsils on him…
Arnold Corns’ version of ‘Hang On To Yourself’ had a pre-Beach Boys sort of feel. It was strummy guitar, like some of the early bands David was in, ‘Let’s have a shindig’ – that kind of feel to it. He’s a songwriter – he knew exactly the sound he wanted. He would sometimes tell you about the sound he had in his head – sometimes he’d tell you quite bluntly. The thing is, you could always say to him, ‘You know that bit there? If we were to do that… He would take suggestions for improvements. He was a lovely guy.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
Arnold Corns also recorded an early version of ‘Moonage Daydream’ at the session. That became the lead song on their flop single, released on 7 May 1971, which had ‘Hang Onto Yourself’ on the b-side (the title was slightly different on Bowie’s later version).
‘Hang Onto Yourself’ was reissued by the B&C label on 11 August 1972, this time as the lead song, with ‘Man In The Middle’ on the b-side. Once again it did not chart.
Though I understand why you might in a rushed session want to turn ‘Hang On To Yourself’ into a very impressive thrash – some people think it was the first ever punk single – it was a bit of a mess really. Great for a live gig and a signature tune, but David’s original [album track] the way he did it slowing it down was great.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
The Arnold Corns recordings of ‘Hang Onto Yourself’ and ‘Moonage Daydream’ were reissued in 2002 as bonus tracks on the 30th anniversary edition of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
The Ziggy Stardust version of ‘Hang On To Yourself’ was the b-side of Bowie’s standalone single ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ in September 1972. It peaked at number 12 in the UK.
In the US, ‘Hang On To Yourself’ was the b-side of ‘The Jean Genie’ in November 1972.