For anyone who worshipped Mott the Hoople during the band's actual lifetime, "Saturday Gigs" occupies an especially sacred place in the heart -- for, not only was it the band's last single, you also got the impression that they knew it was.
The best of all Ian Hunter's "story of the band" compositions, a year by year summary of Mott's ups and downs, "Saturday Gigs" was released at the cusp of one of the ups, the group's first release with new guitarist Mick Ronson on board. Indeed, a truly characteristic Ronno guitar solo, unleashed over the song's protracted fade, reminds us just how fabulous a combination it could have been. But band in-fighting, too, was at a peak, and the chorus of "goodbye"s which takes the song to its end rang with a portentous finality even before news of the band's breakup was revealed.
The song has a long history, and it's a mark of the respect with which Mott themselves regard it that we have since become privy to "Saturday Gigs" at every stage of its development, from the "Saturday Kids" demo cut while Ariel Bender was still with the band through the final single take. A collage featured on the All the Young Dudes box set tracks through almost six minutes worth of monitor mixes and is more or less priceless.
The ultimate version, however, is the alternate take of the actual single which was featured on the mid-'90s Ballad of Mott anthology. There, the upfront guitar solo is replaced by an Ian Hunter ad lib at least as effective as that which closed "All the Young Dudes," and twice as meaningful. Behind him, the sax is soaring, the guitar is wailing, and his bandmates are still chorusing their farewells. But you still don't quite know what is about to happen until Hunter hits his stride.
"Don't you ever forget us," he cries. "We'll never forget you. We're just going to sleep for a little while." Weeks later, Mott the Hoople was no more.