Telegram Sam” came out as a single around Christmas 1971, and then on the The Slider album the following summer. ”Metal Guru” was already my favourite song, so when this one came out I went mental. Every member of the group is on top form. There’s Marc Bolan on guitar, Steve Currie on bass, Bill Legend the drummer, and Mickey Finn on bongoes, just for style as you never really hear him. The ”fifth member” of the group was Tony Visconti, the producer. He’s responsible for the great string arrangement and the baritone sax.
The riff is just a Chuck Berry riff, a walking bass, the sort that later came to signify glam with people like Wizzard. Bolan just put it in a surreal setting, with these strings and sax. He managed to get such energy down on vinyl. The track has a good feel, the way an Al Green record has a good feel – and while it’s rock’n’roll, it’s incredibly groovy. You can dance to it. You have to remember Marc Bolan had been singing about pixies for four years on acoustic guitar with Tyrannosaurus Rex. When he strapped on an electric it all started happening for him.
The lyrics are nonsensical, they’re just like guitar riffs; all they really say is, ”I’m a mental star.” He goes on about ”Purple pied Pete” and ”Automatic shoes, automatic shoes, / Gimme 3D vision and the California blues”. The whole album is full of hilarious lyrics. It was recorded in the famous Chateau studio in France, where people like Bowie and the Stones would work for months on a record. The Slider’s 14 basic tracks were finished in three days!
That’s what’s so great about T Rex, they had the poppy aesthetic with the punk ethic. The Smiths almost did it, but it’s been a rare thing since T Rex for our best band also to be our most popular. It was good to be English back then.
– ‘Telegram Sam’ is on T Rex’s The Singles Collection, Vol 1 (Marc On Wax Records MARCD 510)
Publication: The Independent (London)
Publication date: 02/12/93