How To Make The Whole World Sing: “Anytime”
Crafting a good bridge is of the trickiest parts of writing a song. There are plenty of ways to do it well and just as many ways to screw it up, royally. The most important thing to determine is whether or not your song actually needs a bridge. Inserting a gratuitous passage after the second chorus is a great way to get a listener’s eyes rolling, just as losing your song’s lyrical impact in the morass of a stopgap guitar solo is a great way to leave them feeling downright bored. If your song needs a bridge, don’t be lazy; step up and finish the job.
So how do you decide whether or not your song needs a bridge? And, if it does, how do you go about writing one?
Try thinking of your latest song as a conversation between two friends in which one is trying to make a particular point like, say, what a douche her ex-boyfriend happens to be. First, she relates an event that occurred: “He said he didn’t have money for the rent, then he went on a two-day bender with Tito.” Then, she details her reaction to the event: “I said, ‘You better get your shit together, Jimmy. Fuck Tito.’” Then, to further her point, she relates another event that occurred: “He borrowed my car and brought it back with a smashed fender.” Then she, in no uncertain terms, restates her reaction: “I said, ‘You better get your shit together, Jimmy. Fuck Tito.’”
For the adventurous writer, these four segments could provide a rough outline for a song in verse/chorus/verse/chorus format. Now for the big question: Does she need to say anything else to prove that Jimmy is a douche? Probably not but, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that her friend has been chummy with Jimmy since elementary school. The friend requires more convincing. Taking a deep breath, our protagonist relaxes her body language, lowers her voice a bit, and approaches the subject from a different angle:
“Look. It’s not that I don’t love Jimmy. I do. He may be a douche, but he’s my douche. I think that what I’m beginning to realize is that Tito is the problem. I gotta get rid of Tito so I can keep Jimmy.”
And there you have it: A bridge.
A bridge can also serve as a kind of transition for the narrative of your song, the point at which things are revealed to not be as they seem. To accomplish this, it always helps me to think of a bridge in filmic terms, like a dramatic scene change in which the location, lighting and dialogue are all carefully set apart from anything that has preceded them. This usually works, as long as I remain careful to not confuse the elements so much that I can’t to get back to the original feel and theme of the story. Coming out of bridge is just as important as getting into one.
Neil Finn is incredibly good at doing this, among many other tricky songwriting maneuvers. His bridges consistently shed a new light on whatever he has been singing about up to the point of their entrance. Take a listen to the bridge of his 2002 rumination on mortality, “Anytime:”
It could come without a warning
It could be so easy
A walk in the park
Maybe when I’m sleeping
See the clouds come over
I make you so unhappy
Let’s make it right
The preceding verses of the song list a lot of potentially lethal random events, while the choruses ponder the fact that Finn could go “Anytime.” All of the verse events occur in present tense and are delivered over an ascending chord progression that creates a fair amount of tension. By the end of the second chorus, it might be assumed that the song is just a treatise on the dangers of remaining upright.
But the bridge changes all that. The first clue that we might be getting a new take on things comes in the form of a eight-measure modulation, which catches our attention as effectively as our female protagonist from the conversation above heaving a heavy sigh and planting her hand on her hip. Over a pad of new Beatle-esque harmonies, Finn begins singing lines that answer the sentiments expressed in the verses in a high, exasperated yell. This goes on until the music holds on the VI chord of the original key, over which Finn finally croons “Let’s make it right,” before the song falls back into the verse chord progression. With those words, the theme of the song goes from being “Life is unpredictable, it could end anytime” to “Life is unpredictable, so let’s work things out now.”
Your newest song may or may not need a bridge. But, if you haven’t already written one or are struggling in the process, step back for a moment and try to think of your song as a conversation or film. Is it making its point? Does it need a little help? Then it might be time for a bridge.
Let me know how it goes… I’ll be over here polishing up my latest, “Fuck Tito.” I think it’s a hit.