Building better bridges

If you enjoy reading about the transporting experience of really feeling good music in a live setting, go read songwriter Joel Lindsey’s Annie Lenox concert report. For our purposes today, class, we’re going to focus on a rabbit Lindsey chases for a few sentences in the middle of his paean to Annie. Thus Lindsey:

I realized something about myself while listening to her live performance and that is that I’m very drawn to rhythmic changes that occur during songs — those surprises that sort of come from nowhere but take you on a little mini-journey before returning you to the familiar place. Joyce and Judy Martin told me once that my bridges always took them by surprise and that was sort of my songwriting trademark (to them) and I’m thinking now that it has a lot to do with rhythm changes.

Just so. When was the last time you can remember hearing a bridge that really earned the real estate it occupies in a song, really expanded and transformed the song’s meaning so that the ending achieved its full effect only in the context of what the bridge provided? The last that comes to mind for me is the fantastic downulating bridge on The Hoppers’ “It’s Time.” But given the rarity of those kinds of bridges, I often prefer bridgeless tunes (like Mark Lowry’s cover of that Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus), which simply uses an abrupt upward modulations to achieve the effect of a good bridge far more elegantly and efficiently). Certainly I’m bone tired of hearing bridges that just burgle a few memorable lines from an old with the same theme as the new song.

So, be it herewith and such forth and heretofore and thusly decreed that no gospel songwriter gets to cheat on his or her bridge writing by using a reprised line from some old hymn until said songwriter writes an authentically inventive bridge of the sort that, say, changes up the rhythm or lyrically challenges the predictable sentiments we expect from bridges, or generally does something pleasantly unexpected. You know the bridges I’m talking about. “He Will Hide me Again” feels like the songwriter worked backwards from the idea to use “He Hideth my Soul” (a favorite hymn to cherry pick bits from when you want to make a two-hanky special into a real full on snot-a-thon). Or the bridges whose lyrics are all so much pretext for a perfect fourth modulation up (these you can feel coming several measures away). These types usually include the bridges that have the word “stand” in them. Speaking of shameless ploys, we can’t talk about lame bridges without talking about “Heaven’s Hero” that Greater Vision recorded recently. It was pretty clearly and shamelessly conceived as a way to get to reap the sensational rewards of “Champion of Love” in the bridge. Might as well have had some scantily clad hostess parade back and forth in front of the stage holding up a sign to the audience that says STAND UP AND APPLAUD LOUDLY NOW (even though we really didn’t bother to write anything new for you).

The good news about the predictably of bridges is that they are rife with opportunities for playful, inventive, or otherwise stylistically curious writers to monkey with. The bridges that really knock the top of your head off are the ones that seem to take you where you think you want to go, and then transport you elsewhere so that you don’t know how you got there – and don’t want to be any other place. The bad news? There’s not much incentive for sg writers to do the work it takes to create such a bridge, since most sg audiences prefer the predictability of the familiar.

Update: David Bruce Murray rounds up some favorite bridges of his. And since no one in sg can resist list making, feel free to add yours to the mix. Or just wait for Daniel Mount’s “The Best Bridges That Never Were, Vols. 1-12.”

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  1. Musicscribe Blog » Best Bridges on 17 Nov 2007 at 2:58 am

    […] Harrison just posted a good article about bridges…that section of a song that typically connects a chorus appearing after the […]


  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The original bridge of “Heaven’s Hero” was not a quote from “Champion Of Love.” The song had a perfectly good bridge written by Phil Cross, but as I understand it, producer Lari Goss wanted to use a piece of Cross’ more popular hit instead.

    I believe the “real version” appears in this choral collection:

  2. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Bridges that never were…hmm, there’s an idea. Grab a PD quartet standard, add a bridge from your favorite hymn, and copyright your newly written derivative version…no creativity required! :o)

  3. Steven wrote:

    “Might as well have had some scantily clad hostess parade back and forth in front of the stage holding up a sign to the audience that says STAND UP AND APPLAUD LOUDLY NOW (even though we really didn’t bother to write anything new for you).”


  4. TheGodfather wrote:

    Actually, with regards to “Heaven’s Hero”, the purpose of the “Champion” bridge was to kill two birds with one stone. For over, 20 years, people still request Mr. Wolfe to sing “Champion”, however there comes a time when every song needs a rest, to preserve it. So, rather than sing the entire song and bot be able to sing your current matieral. The song was added in the bridge of “Heaven’s Hero”. Not shameless at, clever.

  5. Greg wrote:

    DBM, you are correct. The version works for GV especially with Gerald’s history with Champion of Love. The original version also works. I wonder how many people understand how little in return a gospel songwriter gets in return for his/her efforts compared to country, pop, etc. The shame is people buying the tracks or having tracks made and singing even recording the songs making $$$ and the writer never sees a penny. Phil I appreciate you man!

  6. Jeremy wrote:

    I have noticed the recent trend where southern gospel artist use old hymns as the bridges in their songs. I find it ironic that in contemporary music the artist sings a hymn and then have a contemporary bridge.

    For instance :
    “Amazing grace”
    with a bridge of “My chains are gone I’ve been set free…”

  7. SM wrote:

    Bridge Nominations:
    “Here I Am Again” - Christlike
    “It’s Still the Cross” - Gold City (props for using a 7 chord).

    Personal opinion, but I’d favor the hymn verse and contemporary chorus CCM combination (a la MWS “the Wonderful Cross” or Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace-My Chains Are Gone”) over the predictable bit-chorus bridge.

  8. Paul Jackson wrote:

    Interesting thoughts and words…though the whole subject seems a little obsessive.

  9. quartet-man wrote:

    Years ago I noticed and posted somewhere about the propensity to use excerpts of hymns in new songs. It was cool at first, but now I can often hear when and how they will do it. It has become way too predictable and boring.

    The first time I remember someone doing this was Gold City using “I Will Glory In The Cross” on “Calvary Came Through.” This was cool. Later, the Martins used “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” on “Grace.” That was nice too. I am sure there are others that are effective, but most annoy me because it seems to be an attempt to link the song to something loved and familiar instead of letting the song stand on it’s own. I did like Gold City using “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” on “Truth Is Marching On” so, there are still times it can be nice. Now, it seems that practically every choral anthem uses a hymn in them too. When will the madness stop? ;)

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