Friday, June 1, 2007

What’s the name of this? Badge?

I heard one of the classic summer pop songs of all-time yesterday afternoon while I was driving back from lunch. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” is one of those wonderful Sly Stone classics that shows just how great of a songwriter he really was. That incredible moment when Larry Graham delivers the verse, “first of the fall and then she goes back” is always one of those melting points for me.

The whole structure of that verse acts like a bridge in a song that actually has no bridge. This has made me think a bit about the greatest bridges and I thought I would put up a small personal top 5 list of great bridges that come to mind.

Writing a great bridge is one of those songwriter skills that is so important and overlooked, especially in this day and age of music, pop, rock or otherwise. The bridge, when it's done well, can move a song into a new territory or enhance/change the mood that a song creates. If done with a particularly strong sense of melody the bridge can break your heart or make your crazy dance more intense.

So, here is a list of this paranoid’s top 5 bridges, in no particular order:

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles. The moment the song shifts down a gear in tempo and key when the verse “and when I’m with you..” it’s obvious that they understood the structure and power of pop music. This is great on two levels (1) it’s placement in the song which gives it a new color and vibrancy, and (2) it foreshadows the songcraft skills the band will show in the explosion of growth and creativity they will have over a short handful of years.

“Invisible Sun” by The Police. I think I can start an argument over this choice, especially over what I define as the bridge. Technically the bridge would be the instrumental part after the second chorus where Andy Summers is bending the strings on his Telecaster while “whoa-o-a-ohs” are being sung in the background. But, I think the true bridge to this song is that great descending chord, crescendo section that connects the verse to the chorus. It’s that off-key delivery that get’s me, especially with Stewart Copeland’s fantastic snare snap just before the chorus begins.

“Georgia On My Mind” and “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael. I had to put both of these songs together. To this day Stardust can stop me in my tracks whenever I hear it played or performed and I have to admit that Brother Ray’s version of Georgia On My Mind with that lush orchestration of the bridge fills me with longing for something I can't define. Carmichael was such an amazing songwriter...and his stuff is damn fun to play on the ukulele!

“Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by Billy Joel. I’ve always wished that this song had been a big hit for Ronnie Spector, especially since it was written for her. I think it’s a great bridge not only in the structure of the song itself but it has a certain symbolism to me, with it’s dated late 70’s quality being inserted into a crafted in the style of a Ronettes song, structure. If Ronnie had had a hit with this she would have been sitting pretty as the 80’s dawned. I don't care if Ronnie Spector is as crazy as a bed bug, to this day I wish I could have the chance to meet her.

“Love Reign O’er Me” by The Who – The way the song becomes more poignant, heart breaking and open as Pete Townshend delivers that descending scale and then the bridge kicks in with “On the dry and dusty road..” with Pete playing an ascending scale on that Gretsch, always shows me just how well this band understood the power of not just the ideas that rock could create, but they understood the common dreams that rock fans shared. It adds to the overall power of the song, one of The Who’s greatest, and in the structure of Quadrophenia it just adds to the detail and sense of personal connection that I, and many other people, feel to the album. I try very hard to not find a personal identification with songs and albums because it's a dangerous way of appreciating art. Like reading poetry, you take great risks when you too closely identify words to the writer or selfishly to yourself, but Quadrophenia is one of the 3 albums I relate to on a deeply personal level. Mike Watt’s “Contemplating the Engine Room” and Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” being the other two.

How about it? Any additions you can think of for great bridges?

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