After the success of their second number 1, Get It On in the summer of 1971, T. Rex released possibly the first glam rock album, Electric Warrior, in September. It featured some of Bolan’s best material, including Jeepster and Cosmic Dancer. T. Rextasy was peaking.
After their contract with independent Fly Records ended, they signed with EMI. It didn’t stop Fly from releasing Jeepster as a single though, and it would have been Christmas number 1 that year, were it not for Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West). Despite this probably being rather embarrassing for the sensitive Bolan, he’ll have been buoyed by the success of the renamed Bang a Gong (Get It On) in the US as 1972 began. And the band were back in their studio to work on next album, The Slider.
Telegram Sam was the first fruits of that LP to be made public. Showcasing their new beefed-up sound, it featured Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals once more, along with producer Tony Visconti. It was inspired by Bolan’s manager (and drug dealer) Tony Secunda, Bolan’s ‘main man’.
It may have enjoyed a two-week run at number 1, but Telegram Sam is the first sign of Bolan’s well beginning to run dry. Yes, the sound is heavier, but it’s really just Get It On all over again, only not as good. And the lyrics, where they used to sound inspired and were never less than interesting, are Bolan-by-numbers. He reels off a list of bizarre characters – in addition to Sam, there’s Bobby, Golden Nose Slim and Purple Pie Pete, who are all excuses to come up with increasingly bizarre rhymes. Take Pete:
‘Purple Pie Pete Purple Pie Pete
Your lips are like lightning
Girls melt in the heat’.
Not great. The self-referencing line in the last verse, ‘Me I funk but I don’t care/I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair’ is better, though.
There’s still great stuff to come from T. Rex at this point, their fourth and final number 1 Metal Guru among them, but here was a sign that Bolan was happy enough to stick to a limited formula and while that was fine for now, he’d soon be behind his contemporaries.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 2 (5-18 February)
Footballer Darren Ferguson – 9 February
Footballer Steve McManaman – 11 February
9 February: Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency as a result of the miners’ strike. A three-day week had already been imposed, and power supplies were turned off for many for nine hours from this day.