I made the mistake of asking people on Twitter to suggest the best bridges of all time – and now I know a lot about the Menai Suspension Bridge and the Ponte Santa Trìnita. I actually meant that transitional passage in songs that usually occurs after verse-chorus-verse-chorus (ABABCAB), a key moment that provides a kind of sweet release and depth. Often it’s a contrasting few bars that sets up the song for a return to the original verse and chorus, but there are no strict rules. Certain bands know how to write a killer bridge – Queen, Radiohead, Beatles, Arcade Fire, Beach Boys, Pavement… Some avoid them altogether. But when done well they can distill the emotional content of the song into a couple of lines.
Sometimes they’re really long:
Sometimes they’re really, really different from the rest of the song:
Sometimes they’re just proof of a band’s knack for pop genius
Sometimes they’re the most shiver-giving and powerful part. The anguished bridge in Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ might be the greatest moment of his career:
Sometime they save a song from banality (and Pharrell Williams is particularly good at that):
So what makes bridges so potent? Daniel Levitin, the American neuroscientist, describes it well in his book ‘This is Your Brain on Music’. “Music is organised sound, but the organisation has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic.” The artist “artfully manipulates” our expectations with a “semi-resolution that straddles surprise and release.”
What are your favourite bridges? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter using #beautifulsongbridges.