The ubiquity of bridges

Over at southerngospelblog, Daniel Mount has been talking bridges, those now omnipresent transitional passages near the end of songs that precede the big finish. Mount provides a very brief history of the bridge, and then concludes:

Many bridges follow a simple formula. You take a lyric the length of a full or half verse, set the melody a third interval above the melody of the verses, and perhaps toss in a bonus chord transition. Then you transpose either to the next key up, or up a fourth or fifth interval if you’re writing for a group.

It’s not that I’m bashing bridges. They can be effective if they’re not over-used. Compare a bridge to your favorite type of sandwich. You enjoy it several times a week, but five or six days of the week, every week, is too much.

How did we get to where bridges replaced the final verse?

And should the final verse make a comeback?

Though I’m paid by the opinion around here, I thought for this one I’d get a professional’s opinion, so I put Mount’s analysis and question to the songwriter Joel Lindsey. He replied:

Well, I definitely think there are more and more bridges being used in SG, which is influenced by the 80’s inspo of Sandi Patty, Larnelle etc., where they would use bridges to build on the emotion and then, using mods, take the emotion (and the melody) into the stratosphere resulting in a quite rapturous feeling and the almost certain standing ovation. I don’t really think that’s a bad thing if used effectively. I do, however, disagree with his “formula” for how bridges are written — some may do this but I can’t think of an example of that off the top of my head.  No matter, bridges should, in my opinion, use a whole new rhyme scheme and structure and then go some place totally new, musically.

As other commenters have said already in response to Daniel’s thread, bridges should only be used when you have something new to say or something new to add musically to what has already been there.

Should, but unaccountably are not. Indeed, the trend is, if anything, in the opposite direction: Rather than using bridges as a way to introduce an original musical thought or comment creatively on the hook or theme, most gospel songs today seem to plunk down a derivative bridge near the end of a tune the way those nickel and dime designers on TLC shove cut-rate throw pillows on the end of a couch … because, you know, Trey, that really pulls things together. Uh huh.

Particularly noxious is the popular tendency in southern gospel for some time now to make an old hymn the bridge of a tune. Notwithstanding my immense regard for Wayne Haun’s vastly overlooked and insultingly underappreciated arranging and producing talent, and pain me to say so though it does, Haun is a chief offender here. No doubt, I understand why he and others do this, but like vocal licks and quartet-choreography, anything overused comes off cheesy, and because it’s so overdone, the hymn-bridge cheapens the overall song. Please, oh please, sing me a song about grace (any song about grace) that doesn’t go into either “Amazing Grace” or “Grace Greater Than All My Sin”!  Ugh.

In our back and forth about songs that buck this bridge-to-nowhere trend, Lindsey gave up this interesting little sidenote:

Calvary Answers For Me was originally written without a bridge.  It was Terry Franklin, in the demo process, who decided to take the last half of the verse, and modulate it into the heavens and make it into a bridge.  Brilliant, I thought.

So to sum up: bridges are overused and can easily come off hackneyed, except when they’re not and don’t.

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  1. Janet B wrote:

    So, Doug…would “He Giveth More Grace” work for you? ;)

    In “This Could Be the Dawning” by EHSS, my favorite part is when they slip into “Until Then,” which is why their version is my favorite. You just don’t hear that old song anymore, so it’s nice to get a snippet of it there.

  2. Videoguy wrote:

    You know good and well that the bridge was invented because, once upon a time, some writer had a leftover thought. They didn’t want to abandon the line, but couldn’t find a way to work it into a verse. I guess you could say the bridge is the Land of Misfits for lyrics.

  3. quartet-man wrote:

    Where does Michael English’s “Let’s Build A Bridge” and the Judds’ “Love Can Build A Bridge” fall in here? ;-)

  4. quartet-man wrote:

    *”Where do?” I thought of the second song mid-sentence.

  5. wanderer wrote:

    I agree with Doug. I am soooo tired of using old hymns or familiar gospel songs for the bridge. It is done way tooooooo much.

  6. jim wrote:

    “Wayne Haun’s vastly overlooked and insultingly underappreciated arranging and producing talent”

    Hmmm. . . .

  7. Dianne Wilkinson wrote:

    Interesting discussion. And I absolutely agree with Joel. I like to think of a bridge in a song just the way that “bridge” is defined…something new (and unsaid) that connects the verses/chorus in an effective…and yes, often dramatic…way. I think we obviously see more bridges in the ballads, and I try to be SURE I think the bridge is needed in those cases, because it could cause the song to run too long (most groups look at a song over 5 minutes with a jaundiced eye). Sometimes I like to put my “bridge” at the very end…perhaps to sum up something. I’ve been calling that a tag, but my co-writer friends tell me it can’t be a tag unless it’s the last line or two of the song (I haven’t been co-writing all that long, so they’re probably right). So I guess my add-ons are something like a coda! Anyway, sometimes it makes the song work for me. Dianne.

  8. NHO wrote:

    I’m of the opinion that if it can’t be said within the primary verse/chorus structure of the song, then it shouldn’t be said. So many bridges I’ve heard add very little to the rest. If the line is so good that it demands adding a bridge, then stay in that creative process and write a new song. Additionally, forcing an old hymn (often a classic that stands well on its own, or should be heard in its entirety) into another song I think is borderline lazy. It seems that many songwriters aren’t confident enough of their own talent or sure enough of the song message that they incorporate a hymn as a “selling point.”

  9. Sensible wrote:

    Ronny Hinson once said, “A bridge takes you to a far away place where you have not been before and then brings you back.”

    I also think a bridge can be used to give the song a unique arrangement. For instance, Verse, Bridge, Chorus or Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus. It has to be very well written to pull it off though.

  10. Casual Observer wrote:

    I share your admiration and criticism of Wayne Haun’s musical sensibilities. I think he is nothing short of genius as an arranger and producer, but I’ll never forget hearing “It’s All About the Blood” (Brian Free & Assurance) for the first time - Wayne did amazing things with the orchestra and vocal arrangements, but then…out of no where…he injected the phrase “Oh the blood of Jesus” (from the old song by the same title) right before launching into the final chorus. Then - just when I thought the song was coming to a triumphant ending - he launched into an entire verse and chorus of “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” It just all seemed so unnecessary. I thought the song would have stood well on its own. But I imagine that Wayne’s creativity is tempered by his pragmatism. He knows how to “push buttons” that make SG fans salivate and jump out of their seats. Nostalgia and sentimentality sells records in the SG world, so throwing in an extra helping of “familiarity” probably makes sense. Mike Speck is another guy who never missed a chance to inject a hymn into an otherwise sufficient song. I just want to know…does any other genre of music - secular or sacred - do that?

  11. Jim wrote:

    “He knows how to “push buttons” that make SG fans salivate and jump out of their seats.”

    Oh, my . . .

  12. JJ wrote:

    As for Haun’s producing and arranging, I’d imagine he is forced to work within the demands of his artists - many of whom prefer to keep SG in a comfort zone of predictability.

    Back to the main topic of this post, if a bridge is used, it needs to take a song to a new place, so when the last chorus comes around, it lands with a bigger impact than it would have (and could have) had. The bridge should make the song greater than the sum of its parts up to that point — so much so that the song “pays off” at a satisfyingly high level unanticipated by listeners when they heard the chorus the first two times.

    If a bridge is NOT used, all of the verses (whether 2, or even 3 in a more hymn-like song) should still say something fresh about the hook/title of the song.

    Bottom line:
    If a song’s lyric and melody are stellar, we all win. Within reason, the form of the song is not really as important as the quality of the song, and great writers know how to keep things interesting. Will the artists cut uniquely great songs? That’s another issue entirely.

  13. jim wrote:

    Inserting a popular hymn into a new song is almost as cheap of a shot as a group doing a patriotic song at the end of the stand, to insure a standing ovation. That is the kind of “button pushing” and salivating stimuli that a stand alone, bonafide hit song doesn’t need. Genius? I think not.

  14. cynical one wrote:

    Casual #10 — Yes, p&w is now doing it, too. We’ll probably blame Lari Goss.

  15. oldfan wrote:

    Casual Observer’s comments remind me of a well-known church choral arranger several years ago, commenting on another arranger’s version of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” He said, “How many times can you climax in 3 1/2 minutes?”

  16. Jake wrote:

    Our church sings a lot of P & W songs, and I have noticed that a lot of them use a bridge. It’s usually v.1, chorus, v.2, chorus, bridge, & chorus again. I think it can have a real impact when used right, but if every other song uses a bridge they can lose their impact.

    As for bringing in another hymn or other song as the bridge, I say “Why not?” IMHO it isn’t distracting, and probably emphasizes the message of the song in many cases. I wouldn’t advise it all the time, but when tying a new song in with an old one works, I think everybody wins.

  17. JJ wrote:

    Using a hymn in an arrangement may not always be a brilliant choice, but it is not a “cheap shot.”

    Great hymns can effectively be paired with great new songs as an homage to the faithful saints/hymnwriters of the past.

    More importantly, hymns truly need to be remembered in the lazy musical culture of today. Too many kids are growing up with ZERO knowledge of hymns, and while some P&W music is great, much is remedial at best.

    Keith Getty and Stuart Townend are modern hymnwriters who write some songs that will last for 100 years. Many of today’s songs (whatever genre) will not stand the test of time.

  18. jim wrote:

    Homage? I thought it was button pushing that SG loves as they slobber out to the product table! Silly me! Wonder why there is seldom writer credit listed for the hymn writer or hymn tune of an inserted hymn.

  19. Not Jim wrote:

    Hey, old-time hymnwriters or current writers are both being ignored.

    Taranda Greene (big fan of hers) gave zero credit to the writers on her last CD. That makes it pretty hard for “regular people” to track down those songs if they want to sing them in the future. And some of the new Oak Tree projects only acknowledge writers on the final screen of the DVD, not on the insert or the CD.

    Giving the benefit of the doubt, the trend exhibits at least laziness and lack of attention to detail.

  20. AnnD wrote:

    I think we should just all listen to Ms Dianne (#7) ’cause she sure must know what she’s talkin’ about!!!! :). I know that when she speaks, I listen!!!!

  21. BUICK wrote:

    Bridges, like beauty, are probably in the eye of the beholder. I agree that they are becoming overused, trite and predictable. But a few really work for me. “Under His Wings” by the Ruppes, gets me EVERY TIME when they insert the chorus of the old hymn. I suspect some don’t like it because they saw if coming a mile away. But it seems dramatic to me and I think the song would be pretty bland without it.

  22. jim wrote:

    “But it seems dramatic to me and I think the song would be pretty bland without it.”


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