The purpose of the bridge in a verse-chorus style song is to break-up the repetition of the verse/chorus format and provide a contrast that will hopefully give added depth and meaning to the overall song. That might sound complicated, but it doesn’t require something expansive and crazy like the bridge in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Instead, some of the most effective bridges can do this in just a few bars. Here are a few songs with awesome super-short bridges and some notes about why they work so well.
Green Day – “J.A.R.”
“J.A.R.” is the best song from Dookie (that isn’t actually on Dookie) and features some of Green Day’s most heartfelt lyrics and best melodies. Bonus points if you know it’s from the Angus movie soundtrack – one of the greatest soundtracks of all time and the origin of the term “Angus-core” for fuzzy pop-punk.
The bridge starts at 1:40 of this video and lasts until 1:49.
The song is in the key of D flat and up until the bridge features only three chords – I, IV, and V – the most basic chords for any major key song. However, the first chord of the bridge is C flat, which is the flat VII chord in the key and when shows up clearly contrasts with the rest of the song. This is one of Green Day’s favorite chords and I wrote about it at length in a previous post.
The lyrics also offer a contrast to the rest of the song as the rest of the song has been about the story. Suddenly, Billie Joe shifts his lyrical tone to addressing the listener directly: “you know that I know that you’re watching me,” overtop the adjusted key center. This bridge cleanly provides a contrast that works to tie the whole song together – and does it only 9 seconds.
This song features a great bridge that is very similar to “J.A.R.” and it’s probably more accurate to say that “J.A.R.” is similar to “Alex Chilton” since the Replacements are a known major influence for Green Day. The entire song is in G major (tuned down a half step), but the bridge starts on C minor and includes a Bflat, making for a short key change before returning to G major for the guitar solo. Next, the bridge features only one line of lyric: “I never travel too far without a little Big Star.” I especially like the use of oxymoron in the line “little Big Star.” Clocking in a 10 seconds, this one offers further proof of the power of a short bridge.
Elvis Costello – “Radio, Radio”
The bridge is from 1:09 to 1:22.
“Radio, Radio” is the song that got me into Elvis Costello and was the song he cut into on his famous Saturday Night Live performance. Just like “J.A.R.” and “Alex Chilton” it starts on a non-key chord (A minor in E major), but its placement in the song is highly unusual. The most common place for a bridge is after the second chorus. However, here, Elvis throws us a curveball by putting the bridge after the first chorus and directly before the second verse. The lyrical content of the bridge gives some insight into why the bridge is in such a strange spot: “I want to bite the had that feeds me, I want to bite that hand so badly, I want to make them wish they’d never seen me.” Elvis does NOT do what you want him to!
These three songs are three of my all-time favorites and all feature a super effective short bridge that starts on a non-key chord. Next time you’re struggling to write a bridge or want a section to offer a little contrast consider the power of the short bridge.