Feb 07

T REX – “Telegram Sam”

FT + Popular32 comments • 5,711 views

#309, 5th February 1972

“Telegram Sam” is a fuzzier, thicker, lazier take on “Get It On”, a stomp round increasingly familiar territory. The dashed-off catalogue of grotesques in the verses are time-fillers to get the song from one beefy hook to the next, with the hollering chorus taking most of the strain. The band’s four number ones tell a story of a group turning up the volume and playing with the balance between groove and hook, and “Telegram Sam” is the weakest, a transitional stage before the pure muscle of “Metal Guru”. Of course it’s still good pop – Bolan may be on nonsense autopilot but he’s still charismatic, still thrilled by his own stardom: “I’m a howlin’ wolf, woooo” he laughs as he neonizes the blues.



  1. 1
    ian on 6 Feb 2007 #

    Telegram Sam R way better than Metal Guru.

  2. 2
    Rosie on 6 Feb 2007 #

    Ironically my favourites amongst T-Rex’s hits are probably Ride A White Swan and Jeepster. The ones that didn’t quite make it to the top. But I was always outside the flock anyway!

    This one always did seem rather tiresome and repetitive.

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 6 Feb 2007 #

    I share Rosie’s sentiments about “Ride a White Swan” (if not “Jeepster”) and the tired repetitiveness of “Telegram Sam.”

    Perhaps the saddest thing about Bolan (other than his untimely death) was how quickly the musical elements that took him to the top became worn out. “Ride a White Swan,” “Hot Love,” and “Get It On” were refreshingly whimsical, provocatively weird, and sexy–and they rocked. “Telegram Sam” manages to rock, but the other qualities seem to have tired themselves out by the time TS came along.

    Even so, Bolan was able to come up with another stunner, the underappreciated “Children of the Revolution.” None of the cover versions come close to the original.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Feb 2007 #

    Can’t abide “COTR” or much of his EMI stuff in general. Should have stayed indie!

  5. 5
    Erithian on 7 Feb 2007 #

    The Guinness Book of Hit Singles credited T Rex with four consecutive Number 1s, on the grounds that they looked at consecutive official releases, whereas “Jeepster” (no 2) was released by Fly after he’d left and “Debora” (no 7) was a re-release. It just goes to show, along with the “Electric Warrior” album spending 8 weeks at number one, that Bolan was the hottest property in UK pop since Beatlemania. EMI put out “Telegram Sam” on a T Rex label, and subsequent releases not only featured the distinctive label with Bolan’s picture, but a personalised catalogue number (was it the first ever?), “Metal Guru” being MARC 1. And yet MARC 5, “The Groover”, less than 18 months down the line, was his last top ten hit.

    COTR easily outranks this one for me, as does “20th Century Boy” which rivals “Get It On” as his signature tune.

    BTW, chart aficionados and Popular watchers will mourn the death of the mighty Frankie Laine today.

  6. 6

    late beatles releases had “personalised” label numbers in the sense in the sense that only beatles releases had that configuration — but they weren’t names, they were “apple”-related

  7. 7
    Martin Skidmore on 7 Feb 2007 #

    I voted for ‘shoulda been 10’ but I’m not sure I mean it – I totally love T.Rex, and might give his best several 10, but there are a couple I love more than this. This was when I was just starting to pay serious attention to chart pop, and I fell for Marc instantly, on every level, and I still can’t be remotely objective about him.

  8. 8
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Feb 2007 #

    My mum will certainly mourn the passing of Mr Laine, still the holder of the longest cumulative run of any single at number one (“I Believe”) and also the record for the most number of weeks at number one in any single year (27 weeks in 1953 – more than half the year).

  9. 9
    Jon on 7 Feb 2007 #

    Marc Bolan had about four ideas. Unfortunatly he seemed to use at least three of them in every song he wrote. This is a really dull and tedious song. Ride a White Swan is good – all of his other songs sound exactly the same to me.

  10. 10
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Feb 2007 #


  11. 11
    Rosie on 7 Feb 2007 #

    Apropos Frankie Laine – every so often you hear of the death of somebody whose death you could swear you heard of years ago. And no, I don’t mean like Dave Swarbrick.

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Feb 2007 #

    A quick trawl through his UK number one tetralogy on Popular, however, reveals SUBOPTIMAL LAINE RESPECT!

    (actually and sadly Tom is pretty OTM about all of them)

  13. 13
    Rosie on 7 Feb 2007 #

    He outlived Marc Bolan by quite a margin though.

  14. 14
    Doctor Mod on 7 Feb 2007 #

    Despite any shortcomings this disc might have, a quick scan of the list of 1972 number ones suggests that even a relatively weak Bolan offering is much better than most of the top hits of that time.

  15. 15
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Feb 2007 #


  16. 16
    Lena on 8 Feb 2007 #

    I don’t mind this, but the US#1 at the time, “Let’s Stay Together” is better. (Actually I think I know the Bauhaus cover better than the original!)

  17. 17
    Doctor Mod on 8 Feb 2007 #


    Why am I not surprised?

  18. 18
    Doctor Mod on 8 Feb 2007 #

    Apropos the above, which I tried to edit but timed-out while doing so:

    I realize that there are those who believe I have the most ill-informed aesthetic sensiblities possible, and, given this handicap, I can never make a cogent critical judgment.

    But I dare say that the various Osmonds, David Cassidy, Lieutenant Pigeon, and the Pipes and Drums Military Band–not to mention Chuck Berry’s juvenile masturbation sing-along and Nilsson’s overblown cover of a decent Badfinger song–were not artistically superior to “Telegram Sam.” And that’s not saying much for “Telegram Sam” either.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Can we try to make a point of not putting in spoilers? OK, anyone who wants to know what’s coming up either knows already or knows where to look it up, but, as I’ve said several times before here, it would be nice if we could lay off talking about specific number ones UNTIL THEY ACTUALLY COME UP.

  20. 20
    intothefireuk on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Well that’s 1972 dealt with !

    I actually find Telegram Sam quite entertaining and I prefer it to Get It On. It certainly fleshes out the bare bones of GIO and adds more Bolan whooping and a-holering. This was my entry point with the T.Rex canon so it’s probably more fondly remembered for that reason but it does make a logical transition to the epic ‘Metal Guru’. It also of course introduces us to the phrase ‘main man’ which Bowie would subsequently usurp.

  21. 21
    Tom on 9 Feb 2007 #

    If there’s a huge debate forming on a particular number one before it comes up then I will step in and say “hold on please”. But general assessments of a particular year, without going into too much detail, are fine – it’ll make it more interesting when I scientifically prove that Lieutenant Pigeon are the best band of all time discuss those songs. One of the things about the Popular format is that it doesn’t often leave room for those kind of ‘umbrella views’ – maybe there should be a “roundup” at the end of each calendar year covered where I list the entries and marks received, and more general discussions can take place?

    Anyway I like 1972, I think!

  22. 22
    Erithian on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Tom, a talking-head spot in I Heart 1972 is yours for the asking. Good idea re the end-of-year roundup.

    Agree with Marcello about spoilers (having been guilty of it myself) – it does spoil the fun, a bit like avoiding the scores until Match of the Day then making the mistake of watching the news bulletin beforehand. A prime example of a spoiler was last September when, during the discussion of Amen Corner back in 1969, Doctor Casino and I got sidetracked onto the subject of the Number 1 that deposed “Telegram Sam” (and which we’re eagerly anticipating now, Tom!) I don’t think I’ve seen Doctor Casino on these pages lately – can someone tell him/her that the song s/he raved about is coming up?!

  23. 23
    jeff w on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Ready-made 1972 round-up opportunity here:

    (contains spoilers, obv – so do not click yet if you don’t want to know what’s coming up)

  24. 24
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Is Lex Patrick Bateman?

  25. 25
    Doctor Mod on 9 Feb 2007 #

    OK–sorry if I spoiled the fun. I started posting on this sight for the purpose of fun and to have some sort of discussion about music that most of the people around me know nothing about. But “wrong” is not discussion–it’s a slap. And when one poster has to take umbrage at every opinion I offer (and now “censor” my most recent comment), there’s no point in my saying anything.

    Ergo, it’s ceased being fun. Tom, keep doing a great job.


  26. 26
    Doctor Casino on 10 Feb 2007 #

    Doc Mod, you’re one of my favorite posters on this blog, so I hope you reconsider. If not, all the best.

    As for “Telegram Sam” – thanks to Popular, I’ve gone from knowing one T-Rex song to three, but I’m not sure much has changed about my life. Considering how little I’m familiar with the formula it’s amazing how quickly this track turns into “Oof, haven’t we done this already?” for me.

  27. 27
    Al Ewing on 10 Feb 2007 #

    I’ll add my voice to those calling for Doctor Mod to keep going in the face of adversity.

    Also ‘Telegram Sam’ seems to fit in with Sheila Peel’s ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ portrayal of Bolan having it and then losing it.

  28. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Feb 2007 #

    Seems to be that Doctor Mod is quite prepared to “slap” others here with his rash opinions while making no attempt to justify or qualify or support them but then cries wounded when others rightly call him up on them.

    Also there are people reading this, if not posting comments, who DON’T KNOW what’s next and would like to maintain the element of SURPRISE.

    However, as with any undertaking of this nature, it is essential to understand that if you publicly state opinions then these are likely to be questioned or challenged or debated.

  29. 29
    Tom on 10 Feb 2007 #

    I would prefer it if Doctor Mod kept commenting – she’s one of the people who make doing Popular so enjoyable. So is Marcello. Their perspectives are unique and fascinating.

    But the Popular comments box isn’t ILX. The kind of one-liner one-upmanship and defensive lashing-out which passes for conversation there is completely inappropriate here. Doctor Mod wasn’t being rude in her so-called ‘dismissal’ of 1972; Marcello was being rude in his one-line response to it, admittedly (I think) not excessively so by the standards of most interweb comment.

    As for “spoilers”, can people *please* read my earlier comment? If a discussion gets too deeply into a specific upcoming hit, I’ll ask people to stop. General commentary on a year is fine (though more useful at the end of a year), and just mentioning upcoming #1s is OK too: this stuff is public record!

    If I think Doctor Mod is wrong about 1972, I want her to stick around and be persuaded! The same goes for all the commenters here.

    Let’s be polite to each other, and talk about the music and the history, please.

  30. 30
    Tom on 10 Feb 2007 #

    (If commenters do want to let off steam, I recommend putting “Indie Kids”, “Emo Kids” or “Pink Floyd” into the search box top right and having fun there.)

  31. 31
    Doctor Mod on 10 Feb 2007 #

    I am aware that likes and dislikes about popular music can be highly personalized–they are opinions, not facts or tenets of faith–and frequently about more than the music itself. Thus I find it strange that all this has occurred over a song about which I have no particularly strong feelings.

    I didn’t think that my statements about “Children of the Revolution” or 1972 in general were particularly “rash” and they were certainly not calculated to offend. I am not clairvoyant, and I cannot know what any given individual loves or hates in advance of my post. In all fairness, I did attempt to support my statement, and in doing so kept remarks about other number ones to one sentence. I did not intend in any way to second-guess Tom (whom I regard as a very astute critic) by anticipating what was to come.

    I have spent the last quarter-century paying my academic, scholarly, and critical dues, and in that time I’ve managed to publish five books with respectable presses. I’ve also published numerous articles and given over fifty public lectures, many on highly controversial issues of gender and sexuality. Accordingly, I’m quite aware that any public statement is subject to criticism. But those years have also taught me that while it is essential to respond to thoughtful and constructive criticism civily and appropriately, there is little to be gained in attempting to engage those who assume one is “wrong” a priori.

    If you will read my remarks regarding “Coz I Luv You,” you will see I can be convinced to change a long-held opinion and actually find a song that I truly didn’t really want to hear quite enjoyable. (In the end, I liked it a lot more than Tom did.) But that only happened because I found some of the comments quite compelling.

    Several years ago, I taught Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity to a first-year class. In doing so, I pointed out that the protagonist’s turning point comes when he realizes, however begrudgingly, that he can actually sit down to dinner with people who own Tina Turner records, and that people who like Tina Turner are not necessarily stupid, evil, degenerate or a threat to his well-being. Two people can hold diametrically opposed opinions or tastes without either being “right” or “wrong.”

    None of these observations are things that I would normally post on another person’s website, and I take no pleasure in doing so. I do, though, believe that no one should walk out on a situation without an explanation. I am not a hot-headed prima donna who throws a snit-fit over one perceived slight. My perception is one that has been growing for awhile and has kept me from posting comments that I might have felt free to make otherwise. I found this site accidentally while researching a book chapter on women performers in the 1960s; as I’m trying to finish my book on the 1960s, perhaps my energy would be better spent in expressing my opinions there. I did not come here to be a pedant; I came hear to have some fun and actually learn a thing or two. When I feel compelled to explain myself in this manner, it’s no longer fun.

  32. 32
    Tom on 12 Feb 2007 #

    No more posts on this topic please – check the next entry for clarification on comments box policy, perhaps paying special attention to the meaning of the phrase “as of today”.

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