I was in a writing session recently with “Wayne” and “Jordan” and we came to the point in the process where…well, we were asking ourselves…do we need it? Ya know—the passage that occurs about 3/4 of the way through a song (after 2 verses and 2 hooks), which serves as a departure, a detour, a variation in theme…"The Bridge.” Or The Middle 8. (Let's not confuse The Bridge with The “Pre,” “The B,” “The Ramp,”—yes, I’ve heard it called The Ramp...no subtlety at all—which comes before the hook. Also optional.)
Wayne commented, “It’s sad, isn’t it?” (I luv the way Brits commonly put that “isn’t it” after a comment.) “Songs are 2 minutes long now. Such short attention spans we have. No one can be bothered” :(
Songs were 2 minutes long in the 60s too! And then they got longer. Like I remember when we weren't supposed to get to our hook before 50 seconds. It would have been "pre-mature." Can you imagine? 50 seconds? I can get all my errands done in that amount of time.
Sometimes, when I’m driving, and I hear a song I’ve never heard before, I try to guess how it’s gonna go...ya know...The Bridge…(if it has one). Will there be a change of phrasing? Sparser lyrically? Denser? Will it start on the 2 or the 4 chord or just stay on the tonic throughout? There’s no one appropriate approach. But if it’s satisfying and goes to a place that my sensibilities wouldn’t have steered me, I learn something. Palate expanded. Maybe I’ll try that trick next time. Anyway, where was I?
So we ended up adding this one little line before the last repeat of the hook. And that was that. Shortest diversion ever. Cool with me. It’s the new norm. I’m getting used to it.
Why are bridges shrinking? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but lately every section of a song is a hook unto itself, the verses too…so maybe we don't need that “extra” any more? Maybe we’re sated from such a rich experience that a conventional bridge would be overkill? Plus, the "posts" (or chants) at the end of many-a-chorus soak up valuable real estate.
One of my new co-writing pals Rob Kleiner, had this to say: “More than half the songs I work on these days don’t have bridges at all.” (I know he’s working on more sessions than I am. So he must know.) That said, I posit that if there is no traditional departure, there has to be some other element that replaces the psychological function a bridge would have served, in order for the emotional arc of a song to do it’s job. Juss sayin'. A drop. A break down. A burp. Something that makes us miss the hook and want it back. Like the boyfriend who breaks up with us for a second, followed by the relief when he comes back, banging on our door.
Alas..(did I say alas?)...if the bridge becomes obsolete it’ll mean there’s no longer anything to cross…nobody to extend our hand to and pull over to the other side. No high point, but perhaps a dependable steady pulse. Will we miss what we once knew? What if we never knew it? How can we miss what we never had? I think the more nostalgic musing is to have never made the acquaintance of that potentially lovely but temporary digression.
I like the surprise in the middle. The cream in the Twinkie. I like the peek around the corner, the stray from home, and then the comfort of being back in my own bed.
I am not impatient. I have time. I’m here for the full ride. That’s how I feel. But consider the source. I used to be a sucker for a modulation too. Remember those? Hey, you never know. What goes around comes around.
Watch this space.
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