309. ‘Telegram Sam’, by T. Rex

Oh yes. Thrusting The New Seekers out of the way, thank God, with one flick of his corkscrew hair… Marc Bolan, ladies and gentlemen.

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Telegram Sam, by T. Rex (their 3rd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 30th January – 13th February 1972

With a chunky, crunchy riff that is part-electric guitar and part-sax, and some wonderful nonsense lyrics, T. Rex score their 3rd chart-topper in well under a year. This is a single that swaggers in to the room oozing arrogance and attitude – a band at the peak of their powers and popularity ever so slightly phoning it in. (OK, ‘Telegramming’ it in.)

Telegram Sam, Telegram Sam, You-ooh, Are my main man… The song is a list of characters, introduced one after the other. Golden Nose Slim, Golden Nose Slim, I-I-I, Knows where you’ve been… Who are these people? Are they people? Are they a band? Are they cocaine-fuelled imaginings? Who knows, who cares, when you can join Purple-Pie Pete, whose lips are like lightning making girls melt in the heat…

I did read that the line Bobby’s alright, Bobby’s alright, He’s a natural born poet, He’s just outta sight… is a reference to Bob Dylan, while the other references are people close to Bolan. His ‘main man’ was his manager, for example. And then there’s ‘Jungle-face Jake’, about whom one must make no mistake… That would be his managers assistant. Who was black. Yeah… Not the kind of lyric you would get away with writing these days. Moving swiftly on…

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Because this is a song written by Marc Bolan, there is of course a verse dedicated solely to himself. And isn’t the line: Me I funk, But I don’t care, I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair… just perfect? There’s always a gem in amongst the nonsense with T. Rex. For the mini solo we get the same electric violin from Slade’s ‘Coz I Luv You’, and there’s lots of squealing and breathing from Bolan throughout.

Maybe it’s because it’s coming hot on the heels of Benny Hill and bloody ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’, but this record sounds super-thrilling and fresh – a blast from the future. Of all the bands that have ever existed, T. Rex are the one that I wish I’d been around for in real time. Of course it would have been great to have been a teenager at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, or to have been around to hear ‘She Loves You’ for the first time in 1963, but I know that if I had been a fourteen-year-old in 1972, then I would have been sending my parents into a tizzy with my love of mascaraed Marc and his boys.

But I have to admit that, of T. Rex’s four number ones, ‘Telegram Sam’ is my least favourite. It’s a solid eight out of ten – that’s how good a band they were – but it doesn’t quite hit the heights of their other chart-toppers. Like I said at the start, it sounds like it’s been written to order. Still, as Marc Bolan can be heard breathing orgasmically just before the chorus: Sounds like the good stuff… Yes Marc, it certainly does.

9 thoughts on “309. ‘Telegram Sam’, by T. Rex

  1. I remember well that the backlash was just beginning about the time this was released. In 1971 Marc had been ultra-cool, but this time everyone at school, and the music papers (well, NME and MM), were all saying that T. Rex singles were being written strictly to a formula, Marc only knew three chords, and the lyrics were fourth-form nursery rhyme fodder. Someone even called this one ‘Ride On a Hot Jeepster’. In spite of that, by the time I started doing weekly discos about eight to ten years after that, T. Rex were hip again, Marc was deeply mourned and this, like ‘Get It On’, was guaranteed to full a dance floor just as quickly as the latest Michael Jackson 45. Whatever ‘Sam’s’ shortcomings, that electric guitar and sax do create a solid groove from the start.

    1. A solid groove is right… I dunno, if this is you phoning it in then you are still doing alright. But I get what you mean. I think I love his final number one best of all, and that is even more simplistic and nursery-rhymey. Just goes to show that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel…

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    I agree…it does seem a little forced or “lets put this out quickly”… a little more simple than their other songs…but saying that…it still beats the hell out of most stuff I hear today.
    Being British and being there at that time? That would have been awesome…also living during the mid-sixties but the early seventies had great music.

    1. Oh to have been alive then!

      With this I feel it’s more ‘we need another hit quick – let’s rush this one out’, rather than him running out of ideas… especially considering some of the songs they still had to come.

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I got ya. I don’t know a bunch about him…that makes sense. Many times artists have all of their lives before they hit to write the first album or so…have these great ideas…but after that sometimes it fades.

  3. It was the first release on his own new EMI record label, complete with Bolan image and T.Rex logo, so it needed to provide a solid hit for the new label, no chances taken. It was def my least-fave Bolan big-hit until Truck On Tyke which was a drop in anthemic standards, but previous comments were right – schoolground kids attitudes were starting to change around this time towards Bolan, though the full-on slagging-off didnt turn up till 20th Century Boy lyrics came over as a bit too gay for the early 70’s Comprehensives (it was the ultimate insult). It also got re-evaluated by me in 1982 when it was a minor chart entry again as the new generation of Synth pop stars name-checked Bolan and Bowie as inspirations. Turned out I loved it after all 🙂

    How naive am I? I have never ever thought about Jungle-face Jake as being black, I just sort of assumed it was something to do with hair a mess!

    1. I had read it in a few places, about ‘Jungle Faced Jake’ so assume it’s true… Sounds clumsy more than outright racist.

      Interesting to hear the kid’s perspective. You see the early seventies, glam, Bowie and Bolan as a big moment in British culture… and I’m sure it was for older teens and twenty-somethings. But the school playground was then, and still was in the 90s, and probably still is today, not the best place to be your true self…

      1. Oh Bolan wasn’t racist, he partnered Gloria Jones of Tainted Love fame and had a son, before dying in the mini his partner was driving. Just what was “acceptable” vocabulary in those days isn’t these days. Not that I would have found that acceptable myself, but it was being called-out on Love Thy Neighbour & Till Death Us Do Part TV show at the time – but being confused as usual by the morons as being a reinforcement rather than criticism of the use. But even then I couldnt stand those shows…!

  4. Pingback: 313. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex – The UK Number Ones Blog

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