The Rock’s Backpages Rewind: Paul McCartney’s Trip Down Memory Lane

Barney Hoskyns

Fred Dellar, one of pop's finest scholars, traces the history of a beloved song from Sir Paul's new album——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

Paul McCartney's latest album, Kisses On The Bottom, is, to a great extent, based around a number of songs his father once loved: age-old standards from a pre-World War II age, along with later ballads that were rendered to the accompaniment of coupons being ripped from ration books, or post-war pops fashioned for a generation who talked in terms of demob suits and tuning-in the wireless.

One of the songs that Macca has chosen to provide with his personal kiss of life is 'We Three'. And hereby hangs a tale. Or maybe several.

In the beginning there was Dick Robertson. Or possibly Dick Dixon, Dick Rogers, Bob Dickson, Jerry Johnson and Dick Robinson — all of which were Robertson in pseudonymous guise. A singer-songwriter-bandleader, popular particularly in the '20s and '30s, Robertson's impressive CV included 'We Three', a ditty he co-penned in 1940. Explanatorily subtitled 'My Echo, My Shadow And Me,' it became a No.3 US hit in 1940 for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with new singer, Frank Sinatra providing the vocal. Nearly a year later, it topped that same US chart in a version provided by black vocal group the Ink Spots.

In Britain the song became the theme tune to Happidrome, a hit wartime radio show that featured the antics of Northern comedians Harry Korris, Vincent Robinson and Cecil Fredericks. Each week they warbled We Three ("Enoch, Ramsbottom and Me") inserting the line "working for the BBC" until every inhabitant between Lands End and John O' Groats believed that was how the song was actually penned. In a way, it seemed only fair. The song's composer had risen to the top via a succession of names. Now, one of his best-known products had conquered a nation utilising a different identity.

When World War II hostilities came to an end and Tin Pan Alley clambered out of its shelter, 'We Three' initially faded from earshot. Even Dick Robertson realised that change was inevitable. He made his way down to Nashville to try his hand at Country music and began recording with the aid of Decca's Owen Bradley, a producer who, in tandem with RCA's Chet Atkins, would change the face of Country. But Robertson wasn't destined to take part in this particular revival. In the wake of a 1949 session, he seemingly took no further part in the history of popular music. 'We Three', however, refused to go away.

Brenda Lee chipped in an Owen Bradley-produced version during 1960, and Ella Fitzgerald added it to her recorded repertoire in 1965. The song has also been erroneously listed by some as a precursor to 'Triad', the notorious David Crosby composition regarding a ménage a trios that was dropped from the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers album when Roger McGuinn declared it to be a "freakout orgy tune."

Now Macca has returned 'We Three' to its simplistic roots, the moonlit ramblings of a would-be lover whose only companion is his shadow, his only vocal contact being provided by an echo.

It's an image out of time, something only Woody Allen might care to foster in a world where reality counts for everything and charm for charm's sake takes very much a back seat. So much for silly love songs.

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