Bridges Worth Crossing

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who told me that the biggest thing he looks for in a great song is whether it has a strong bridge. I thought that was a pretty interesting observation, mostly because I don't really focus on the bridge when listening to a song. The intro, verses, and chorus are the obvious meat and potatoes, and are the most likely to get stuck in my head.

In music, a bridge is used to connect two parts of the song. Sometimes it's used to pause and reflect on what's already been said, sometimes it's meant to prepare for the climax, and some times it's just a nice variation from the typical verse-chorus tradeoff. Some songs have two or three bridges while others don't have any at all. Here's a well known example from The Who's "Baba O'Reily."

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The conversation with my friend got me thinking, and I decided to take another look at some of my favorite songs. What I realized is that a lot of them have some powerful bridges that send shivers up my spine every time I listen. Take for example "Reckoner" off Radiohead's In Rainbows.

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The whole song is beautiful, but probably the most gorgeous part of that entire album is when the drums cut out and Thom Yorke's stark falsetto is backed only by a clean guitar, softly swelling strings, and eerie vocal harmonies as he sings "because we separate like ripples on a blank shore." I get chills thinking about it.

I realized that a good bridge can really affect the whole dynamic of a song. It can take a comfortable structure and completely throw you off with a change of pace, a shift in key, or a reshaping of the entire theme, breathing a new life and energy into the song while providing a refreshing variation to the formula. Here's an example from the Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #3.

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It can also be a deceptively dormant break, leaving you anxiously waiting for the inevitable climactic boom waiting at the end. It's the tension that makes the release that much more satisfying, like in Beck's "Novacane."

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What are some of your favorite songs with a bridge that really stands out?

Here are a few more of my favorite examples:

The Violent Femmes- Kiss Off

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Death Cab for Cutie- We Looked Like Giants

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