Okay, not every song has a bridge for the very logical reason that not every song needs one. What, you may ask, is a bridge, that is, besides the thing you pay a toll and drive across? In song a bridge is a unique construction, different from the verses (and the choruses, if they are included as well) to break the monotony, so to speak, of the same repeated notes, however pleasant those notes may be.
To give you an example of a song with a good bridge, consider the song, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive. If you bothered to hook up to the link (And you really should-I picked out an excellent rendition from Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook.), you will see the bridge comes in the form of the lines:
To illustrate my last remark,
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark.
What did they do
Just when everything seemed so dark?
At this point, I should confess that I often cause Mr. Mercer to spin rapidly in his grave by expanding on the bridge, to the point where it is no longer a bridge, but a set of verses. In a typical standard with a bridge, the singer will go through the entire number once, then zip it to allow the musician(s) to play with the basic melody, until the song gets back to the bridge, whereupon the guy at the mike resumes exercising his tonsils.
The way I manage to pervert this song, whenever I sing it is, when the music gets back to what should be the bridge, instead of repeating Mercer’s witty lines, I throw in:
To amplify my last decree,
Daniel in the den, Moses by the sea.
What did they do
With things awful as they could be?
Well, you know what they say: when is a bridge not a bridge? When it’s ajar.
To celebrate the utility of the bridge in song, I thought I might provide you with a list of my ten favorite bridges, somewhat in the order of how I measure their quality, though they are all, without exception, fun to sing.
10. Sh-boom, sung by The Crew-Cuts, 1954
Let me say that this song-the absolute monster hit of the summer of 1954-is one of two on this list where the bridge seems to have been destroyed. Later versions of the song have generally omitted it, for reasons that completely escape me.
Here, he said, nearly overcome with magnanimity, let me provide you with a listen at the original hit, bridge and all.
In a piano bar I used to frequent, before the house pianist hung up his spikes (He’s 72), one fellow would sometimes sing “Sh-boom,” and the rest of us would have the pleasure of joining him in the lively but profoundly meaningful bridge:
Sh-boom, sh-boom, yaddita, daddita, daddita, da; sh-boom, sh-boom, yaddita, daddita, daddita, da; sh-boom, sh-boom, yaddita, daddita, daddita da, sh-boom!
They just don’t write them like that anymore.
9. Over the Rainbow, written by Arlen and Harburg, 1939
As we all probably know, this song was the biggest hit from The Wizard of Oz. It was such a superb number, that it became a classic standard on its own.
For those of you who may just remember the first verse or the first few lines, let me offer you a rendition by Celtic Woman with the amazingly-talented Hayley Westenra standing in for regular member Lisa Kelly . Ms. Westenra is the young lady on the far left, providing the excellent harmony to Over the rainbow. I apologize for not giving Judy Garland her due in my YouTube selection, but the version I picked is, far and away, the most beautiful one I have ever heard.
One thing I should point out about the bridge, for those of you who might endeavor to sing this song someday: it is nowhere nearly as easy to sing as the rest of the song. If you do not really focus on what you are doing, it will come out lame, but, if you do your work, you will have produced a thing of beauty in your own right.
8. Goodnight My Someone, written by Meredith Willson, 1957
This represents the second of only three songs on my list from musical productions. It is from The Music Man and may just be the finest song in an excellent score.
I should mention that, so few of my favorite bridges come from musicals because the songs from those shows tend to need bridging the least. Often, what you will get in place of a bridge is a dance routine. Broadway loves to dance, maybe even more than to sing.
This is also the second of two songs on my list where the bridge seems to have disappeared in a puff of smoke. I have searched high and sober-I meant to say, low-for a score of this song that contains the bridge, and there does not seem to be one anywhere around, outside of the one for the actual show, for which you will have to pay a royalty and stage a production.
Fortunately, most of the piano players I work with know this song, in its proper entirety, so they can provide the bridge from memory. I often like to sing it as my last number in a night of yowling.
Here is the way Goodnight My Someone is supposed to sound, and from a larynx far more capable than mine.
By the way, you may note that the bridge to this song, lovely as it is, contains an imperfect rhyme, which is not so unusual for pop music, but quite rare for Broadway. It is troublesome because, whenever I get to that part, the evil thought goes through my mind of singing:
True love can be whispered from heart to heart
When lovers are parted, they say.
But I must depend on a wish and a fart…”
I am in constant fear that, some night, I am going to blurt that version out.
7. The End of the World, written by Arthur Kent & Sylvia Dee, 1962
It is a good thing I like the bridge to this song so much (as I do the song itself), because it is the most frequent request I get (aside from the ever-popular, “Shut up and sit down!”) in the piano bar setting.
I provided this link in a long-ago essay, and I’m glad to say it is still around. Here is the inestimable Vonda Shepard doing all the justice you could ask for to this song.
6. Grow for Me, written by Alan Meknen & Howard Ashman, 1982
This is the last of my Broadway tunes with a bridge. Actually, this particular song does not really need a bridge, but it’s nice that it has a top-quality one in addition to everything else.
Typically, a bridge comes after the first two verses and before the third, which is where this one comes. But then, keeping in mind, this number is from The Little Shop of Horrors, you have the whole rigmarole of Seymour Krelborn discovering why his plant won’t grow and what it will take for it to thrive.
See for yourself what transpires in Grow For Me.
If the YouTube selection itself did not make it obvious, this bridge is a real bear to sing, but great if you can carry it off.
5. & 4. Wonderful World…see below
Yes, I have listed two entirely different songs with the same title. Actually, both songs are also known by the alternate title, What a Wonderful World, and both of them contain that phrase. The two things they have in common are that they were, in their time, hit songs, and they both have excellent bridges.
The first time I sang either of these songs in my present regular place, some fellow had just finished singing this What a Wonderful World, I jumped up, grabbed the mike (something I don’t normally do) and said, “I too would like to sing Wonderful World, and I did. I know, I know, nobody does this second song better than Sam Cooke, as far as the first two verses go, but I sing the S-G-T version to get that third verse in, after the bridge, rather than just repeat the first verse, as the original version did.
If the place hasn’t been too busy, I have sometimes been allowed to piggy-back the two songs, giving the semi-captive audience two excellent bridges for the price of one.
One difference between the two songs: the bridge to the Louis Armstrong hit is not all that difficult to sing, but the other one takes some focus and energy, if it is not to fall flat. By the way, I dumb the bridge down even more by singing, “I know I’m not a A student…” Yes, I do enjoy mangling other peoples’ songs. The way I figure, it’s enough that I sing them on key.
3. Before the Next Teardrop Falls, sung by Freddy Fender, 1970
Actually any number of singers who have recorded this song include the excellent bridge. The reason I like Baldemar Huerta’s version is that I get to sing the second verse in Español, thereby finally getting some use out of my high school Spanish.
Here, let Freddy show you what I do when I sing Before The Next Teardrop Falls. Spanish verse or no Spanish verse, I think, if there were not that beautiful and tender bridge in the song, I might not have bothered to add it to my inventory.
2. Java Jive, written by Milton Drake & Ben Oakland, 1940
Whatever version you hear of this song-whether it’s The Ink Spots, The Manhattan Transfer or Tom Lane-it is one of the hippest songs around, and that goes double for the bean-filled bridge. Take a listen, why don’t you?
1. Sentimental Journey, written by Les Brown & Ben Homer, 1944
In a number of the favored bridges I have listed, I pointed out that they are fine bits of music (and they are), but sometimes, you had to work for it. The bridge to this song is every bit as good as those others, but, in terms of difficulty-to use a baseball metaphor-it’s a tit-high hanging curve. Any fool (me, for example) can make the bridge to SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY light up the room with just a modicum of effort.
If you find yourself at a party where the guests are expected to sing, you could do a whole lot worse than to go with this one.
Before I leave you in peace, at last, I wanted to bring up one other song that has what would seem to be a wonderful bridge, but like Sarah Palin’s favorite structure, it is a bridge to nowhere, in that it comes at the end of the song, so it doesn’t really bridge anything. Still, this is a fun song to hear. Go ahead, indulge yourself.
Not all bridges are entirely helpful to a song. Some of them are weak, no matter how well the singer puts them across. For example, the bridge to the otherwise excellent hit, “Blue Velvet” is so boring that I have never bothered to try singing the song in public. But let us not talk of such things. Be thankful, as I am, for the good ones.