The lyrics feature numerous figures such as Bobby (who is a natural born poet who is just outta sight), Golden Nose Slim (who knows where you been), Jungle Faced Jake (make no mistake) and Purple Pie Pete (whose lips are like lightning and girls melt in the heat). It also contains these lines Marc Bolan wrote to refer to himself: Me I funk/but I don't care/I ain't no square/with my corkscrew hair, a line which industrial rock band KMFDM would borrow for their song "Me I Funk". The riff is similar in character to their massive hit from the previous year, "Get It On" but in the key of A rather than E. "Telegram Sam" was not as successful as "Get It On" worldwide, and it only peaked at number 67 in the Billboard Hot 100.
"Telegram Sam" was the first single to be issued by Marc Bolan's own T.Rex Wax Co. label, and was released on 21 January 1972. The b-side featured two songs in the UK, "Cadilac" (as printed on the EMI label of the original single) and "Baby Strange", the latter also included in the album The Slider.
"Telegram Sam" was written by Bolan about the music business accountant, Sam Alder, who sent Bolan, by telegram, payments following performance dates on tour, lest any money sent beforehand be spent and end up interfering with the performance, and news that "Get It On" had reached number one in the United Kingdom. Alder also worked with King Crimson and Roxy Music (especially Bryan Ferry).
In 1980, it was covered by the gothic rock band Bauhaus as a single, which peaked at number 12 in New Zealand. It was also covered by the Croatian punk-rock band Psihomodo Pop.
"Telegram Sam" is the fourth single released by British gothic rock band Bauhaus. It was released in 7" and 12" format, the latter featuring a cover of John Cale's "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores" as an extra track.