Bridges Part 6 — Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'"

The past few posts have been about song bridges, middle eights, possible analogs in film and fiction, and how one might add a bridge to a song, a piece of writing, a film, and so forth.

In this post, I’d like to talk about one of my all-time favorite bridges, the middle-eight section of Stevie Wonder’s song “Creepin’” from his introspective album, Fulfillingness’ First Finale.

 In the earlier posts I noted some standard traits of a bridge.

  • The lyrics reconsider the song’s assumptions and/or looking at things from a new perspective. 
  • This reconsideration is accompanied by a shift to new musical terrain.  The song has to get away from where it has been in order to for the reconsideration to take place.

  • As a result of this questioning and travel through new musical terrain, a song gains a deeper understanding of what it has always been.

 With these ideas in mind . . .


The song opens with its signature riff, a modal progression on the electric piano, highlighted by accompanying synth lines.  The riff establishes the somnambulant mood of the verses.

I can hear you sighin'
Sayin' you'll stay beside me
Why must it be
That you always creep...
Into my dreams?

Note the striking character of the musical dissonance, which is not discordant but weird, surreal.  It places us on a thickly shadowed path, where the few slivers of light that split through the branches are just enough to help us find our way, a few footsteps at a time.  The dissonance creates a sense of mystery and erotic expectation that pulls us through the darkness as we brush against its lush textures. The subtle dialogue between Minnie Riperton’s background vocal and Stevie Wonder’s lead stirs this atmosphere.

And then, at 1:22 (and again at 2:50) we come to the middle eight, and the musical landscape blossoms from modal darkness into a rush of color— the song’s newfound major key.  Having emerged from the verses, we find ourselves lifted up into light.

When I'm sleep at night baby
I feel those moments of ecstasy
 When you sleep at night baby

We are returned back to the verses with the question that haunts the song:

I wonder do I creep into your dreams
Or could it be I sleep alone in my fantasy? 

Note how necessary the bright contrast of the middle eight is to the song as a whole.  The mystery of the verses is deepened by the rush of the middle eight.  Together, these contrasting yet complementing musical moods combine convey the contrasting yet complementing emotional moods —torment and pleasure— of infatuation.

Completion by way of contrast—this is what a bridge does for a song.  

 Thank you for reading.

Song Bridges Part 5 — Building A Bridge

(The San Francisco Bay Bridge via )

(The San Francisco Bay Bridge via

The last few posts have been discussing the element of songwriting known as a bridge.  In “Song Bridges” and “Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights,” I explored the function of the bridge, and in “Song Bridges Part 3 — Film” and “Song Bridges Part 4 — Fiction,” I suggested that analogs to this songwriting move can be found in other mediums.  Indeed, I stumbled onto that idea as I wrote my memoir.  I came to a point in one of the later chapters and thought, “It needs a bridge right here!”

 If one were to add a bridge to a song, a story, a memoir, a film, how might one go about it?

 One might begin by asking if the work in question actually needs a bridge.  I once heard Paul Westerberg say, “The best bridge is no bridge at all.”  Indeed.

Sometimes, however, one has finished a song, a story, or a script and can’t shake the feeling that the work is incomplete, though the beginning feels like the beginning and the end feels like the end.  Somehow the work did not reach the depths necessary to evoke the intended emotional response.  In that case, a bridge may be in order.  How might one add one?

  • Let the work’s main idea establish itself before starting a bridge.  (A likely point for a bridge will be after the halfway point.)
  • Let the bridge introduce material that challenges the rest of the work.

    Challenge the work’s established ideas.  (If the song has been about loss, here is where it might reach for hope.  If the film has followed a protagonist's quest for a goal, here is where she might question that goal.)

    Highlight that challenge by shifting to new formal landscape. (In music, change keys, or meter, or ambience, or instrumentation.  In writing or film, make a dramatic change of scene, tense, timeframe, mood, voice, and so forth.)
  • When you are done, ask yourself if it deepens the piece? Or does it simply add material and thus add to your audience’s cognitive workload?

My band mate, Dan Wilson, (whose advice on songwriting is brilliantly captured in a vine series called “words and music in six seconds”) quoted another wise man, producer Rick Rubin, on the subject of bridges.  Rick said words to this effect: "If you want to add a bridge, it has to be the best part of the song."  (Note the resonance of this insight with Paul Westerberg's.)

I like Rick's test.  Though I can’t say the bridge is always the best section in a favorite song or movie or book, I often feel it’s the most necessary.

 Thank you for reading.



Song Bridges Part 4 — Fiction

The past few posts have looked at bridges, a move that songwriter’s make.  “Song Bridges” introduced the main idea of a bridge and “Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights” described a particular species of bridge.  In “Song Bridges Part 3 — Film,” I noted some analogs in the realm of film.  Today, I’d like to do the same with literature.

To review . . .

  • A bridge comes after the halfway point in the song form, so that the main ideas can be established.
  • It strikes a musical and lyrical contrast with what has come before it.  It challenges or tests the song’s established ideas.
  • As a result, the song’s meaning expands.

Bridges In Literature

The connection to literature had not occurred to me until I was writing my memoir, So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star.   As I edited the draft, I told myself, “It needs a bridge.”  So I wrote a bridge (I may discuss it in some future post) and was surprised to find that bridges can work in books just as they might in songs.

Here are two instances of bridges in fiction.

Example 1 — “The Swimmer” by John Cheever

This famous short story that was later made into a film starring Burt Lancaster.  (I’ve not seen the film; I’ll be commenting only on Cheever’s original version.)

The story takes place in summertime and opens as the main character, Neddy Merrill, sips drinks poolside at the house of friends.  As he thinks about leaving, he concocts a novel plan for getting home.    

“He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the country . . . / . . . he was going to swim home. / . . . The only maps and charts he had to go by were remembered or imaginary but these were clear enough.  First there were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups.  He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the public pool in Lancaster.  Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley Adams, the Gilmartins, and the Clydes.  The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence.”

("The Swimmer" by John Cheever, from The Stories of John Cheever, pp. 603-604.)

So he begins his indulgent journey, dropping in on friend after friend, pouring himself drinks and swimming across pools as he makes his way.  The landscape breathes with class privilege and perhaps a bit of the cool detachment of Neddy’s social set.  Whether or not this or that couple is happy to see him walk through their bushes and dive into their pool, he seems not to care.  He’s too taken with himself and his endeavor to care.

Halfway through the story, Neddy must cross a highway to continue his swim home. 

“Had you gone for a Sunday afternoon ride that day you might have seen him, close to naked, standing on the shoulders of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross.  You might have wondered if he was the victim of foul play, had his car broken down, or was merely a fool.  Standing barefoot in the deposits of the highway — beer cans, rags, and blowout patches — exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful.”

("The Swimmer" by John Cheever, from The Stories of John Cheever, p. 607.) 

He makes his way across and his journey continues through the landscape of poolside privilege.  His arrival home is not the one imagined at the beginning of the story (and in lieu of revealing more, I’ll simply encourage you to read this and other Cheever stories).

Neddy’s crossing of the highway, in my mind, functions as a bridge might in a song.

  • It comes at the halfway point in the story (so the main ideas and textures have been established).
  • It reconsiders the ideas about Neddy established in the first half of the story.  As he drops in on friends and swims through their pools, he exudes boundless social and physical confidence.  Trying to cross the highway, he looks vulnerable and weak.
  •  It supports this reconsideration by a change of scenery (analogous to how song bridges support lyrical questions about the rest of the song with a new musical setting).  His swims are set in elegant surroundings.  Suddenly we now see beer cans, rags, and other roadside trash.

 As the result of this bridge-like moment in the story, we return to the story with a more complete picture of Neddy, his world, and perhaps a darker sense of what awaits him.

Example 2 — A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

 This wonderful novel (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award) is a series of stories about a group of friends and acquaintances who work in the music business.  The stories in the chapters accumulate into a highly diffuse narrative punctuated by leaps of time and place—from the 1980s to the 2000s, from San Francisco to LA to New York, and so forth.  The main characters are music-business professionals, though some of the stories begin when these characters are teens. 

Late in the book, the narrative is taken over by the preadolescent daughter of one of the main characters.  She documents the life of her family, including her older brother’s obsession with pauses in rock & roll songs.

Why this feels like a bridge:

  • The chapter comes after the primary questions and landscape has been established.
  • The chapter steps away from questions about adult careers and relationships and takes up questions of family life from a child’s perspective. 
  • It turns from questions about the music business to questions about music itself.
  • It highlights these reconsiderations of the book’s dominant questions with a departure from the book’s dominant form, for this chapter is written entirely in Powerpoint.  Again, this is an analog to a song’s shift in musical landscape during the bridge. 
(One of the Powerpoint slides from chapter 12 of Jennifer Egan's novel  A Visit from the Goon Squad . via

(One of the Powerpoint slides from chapter 12 of Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. via

As we emerge from this chapter to the world where adults tussle over careers, relationships, technology, and music, we have a deeper appreciation for what’s at stake.

Jennifer Egan listened to a lot of music as she wrote this book.  I mainly think of A Visit From the Goon Squad as being structured as an album of stories, but it’s not unreasonable to suppose that amid all of her listening, she might also have conceived of the book as one epic song with a bridge.

 Thank you for reading.  The next post will address the Why and How of adding a bridge.

Song Bridges Part 3 — Film

The past two posts, “Song Bridges” and “Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights,” have explored a songwriting move called a bridge.

To review:

  • A bridge comes after the halfway point in the song, so that the main ideas can be established.
  • It strikes a musical and lyrical contrast with what has come before it.  It challenges or tests the song’s established ideas.
  • As a result of these shifts, the song’s meaning expands.

It’s interesting to notice how this same type of move is made in other creative forms.  I first noticed this as I was writing my memoir.  As I was editing it, I came to a point well past the halfway point and thought, “It really needs a bridge here.”  So I added a bridge, a short one in terms of its proportion to the rest of the book, but its placement and contrast with what came before and after it qualified it as a bridge.

Since then, I’ve spotted this same move in other works.  Today, I’d like to point out some examples in film.  Tomorrow, I’ll mention some examples from literature.

Film Bridges Example 1 — The Matrix

The awesome Gloria Foster as the Oracle, via

The awesome Gloria Foster as the Oracle, via

The scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) encounters the Oracle (Gloria Foster) functions as a sort of bridge.

  • It happens after the halfway point, so the main idea — Neo is The One — has been established.
  • This scene throws doubt on that main idea.

Oracle: But... you already know what I'm going to tell you.
Neo: I'm not The One.
Oracle: Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you're waiting for something.
Neo: What?
Oracle: Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That's the way these things go.

  • This challenge to the main idea is highlighted by formal contrasts (analogous to the musical changes that accompany the lyrical reconsiderations found song bridges).  Rather than fast-paced scenes of acrobatic street battles (or simulated battles) between youngish characters, we now enter a slow-moving domestic scene, where young children wait to visit with an old wise woman, who sips coffee in her kitchen.

Coming out of this scene, the dimensions and scope of the movie have expanded.  Indeed, without this scene, Neo’s subsequent discoveries about himself would feel empty.

Film Bridges, Example 2, The Godfather

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone via

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone via

Michael Coreleone’s sojourn in Sicily functions as something of a bridge.

  • It occurs just past the halfway mark of the film; the main ideas have had time to establish themselves.
  • The bridge challenges some of those ideas. 

Up to this point, Michael has played the part of a kid brother whose reputation as someone uninvolved in the mob world was the very thing that enabled him to carry out the surprise assassination of a rival mob boss and a policeman.  He carries out the assassination nervously, and his family has taken every precaution to compensate for his inexperience.  Now in Sicily, we see him carry himself as an alpha-dog.

Whereas in the earlier scenes, Michael appears to be trapped by his family’s history, the sequence in Sicily breathes with a sense of his freedom to shape his future, including choosing a new partner, Appolonia instead of Kay.

Up until this point, Michael has distinguished himself by acting rationally.  The descriptions of the mob world he gives to Kay during the wedding sequence, the assassination plot he cooks up based on his appreciation of his perceived weaknesses—these reveal someone who is able to set aside or, if necessary, overcome emotion.  In Sicily, however, he is thunderstruck by the sight of Appolonia.  The passionate Michael, the one capable of falling madly in love, comes to life.

  • These contrasts with the main ideas are highlighted by formal contrasts, a dramatic switch of locale and atmosphere — from urban scenes of the new world, metropolitan New York City, to pastoral scenes of the old world, rural Sicily.

As a result of these contrasts and the death of Appolonia and his baby, when Michael returns to New York, his cold and calculated side reemerges with greater force behind it.  The dimensions of his character, and thus the film, have expanded because of the bridge.

Among other things, these examples suggest that filmmakers rely on intuitions that are deeply musical.

Thank you for reading.  In the next post, I’ll mention a couple of examples of bridges in literature.

Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights

The previous post, "Song Bridges," explored a move that songwriters make.

  • A bridge questions the song’s assumptions and/or discovers a new way of looking at things. 
  • It accompanies this questioning by traveling through new musical terrain.  It has to get away from where it has been in order to gain perspective.
  • As a result of this questioning and travel through new musical terrain, a song gains a deeper understanding of what it has always been.
  • Because a bridge reconsiders things, it has to wait for the main ideas to be established.

One interesting variant of a bridge is a middle eight, a move common in old standards, Beatles songs, early R & B, and elsewhere.


The Setting for a Middle Eight

Generally speaking, songs with middle eights lack the repeating choruses found in modern pops songs.  They are more likely to have one-line refrains that fold into the verses.  Sometimes the one-line refrain comes at the end of the verse, such as in Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick out of You,” and sometimes it comes at the beginning, such as in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The basic pattern for a song of this structure is verse, verse, middle eight, verse.  The term middle eight refers to the fact that the individual sections are often eight bars in length.

What does the middle eight do?  Like a bridge, a middle eight changes point of view, musically and lyrically. 

Let’s first consider the musical shift.


Here, John Coltrane plays the song melody on his saxophone (the first 1:55 of the track), the pianist does some soloing, and then saxophone returns to play the second half of the melody (2:53-end). 

Let’s focus on the first round of melody (0:00 – 1:55).  It can be thought of as four phrases — A, A, B, A.  Since there are three A phrases, I’ll refer to them individually as A1, A2, and A3.

A1 — (0:00 – 0:28)
A2 — (0:29 — 0:57)
B — (0:58 — 1:26)
A3 — (1:27 — 1:55)

Notice that each phrase of the melody serves a slightly different purpose.

A1 states the main idea.
A2 repeats the main idea, further establishing it.
B enters new musical terrain, from where it reconsiders things.  
A3 restates the main idea, which now is heard differently in light of B.

The B section is the middle eight. Notice here is how the middle eight steps outside of the previously established musical landscape.  (Trained musicians might observe that the song changes key here, a common trait of middle eights.)  Because it steps away from and perhaps speaks back to the melody that came before, this B section sets the ground for hearing A3, the final statement of A, with slightly different ears.  We’ve learned something about A by way of B.  The meaning of A feels somehow expanded.

Note the structural similarity with the songs we looked at in the previous post.  The middle eight has to let the main idea get established before shifting terrain to reconsider it.

Now let’s add the lyrical dimension.


The form here is a similar: verse, verse, middle eight, verse (followed by middle eight, verse, etc.).  

The verses all end with the one-line refrain “My old man, keeping away my blues.”

The middle eights (“But when he’s gone . . .”), do two things:

  1. They shift to new musical terrain.  The verses (in a major key) are emotionally brighter, whereas the middle eights (in a minor key) shift to a darker, more interior musical mood.
  2. They challenge the main lyrical idea.  The verses detail the singers affection for ‘my old man’ and the joy he brings her.  The middle eights, by contrast, describe the desperation she feels in his absence.

The meaning of the subsequent verses is thus deepened.  After the singer has looked at the dark side of her love (the loneliness and lack of control she feels when he’s gone) in the middle eights, her declarations of affection mean more to us as listeners.  The middle eights add important dimension.  Without them, the detailing of affection might feel shallow.

On the surface, A A B A may look like this.     

On the surface, A A B A may look like this.  


But beneath the surface,  the B section invites us to reconsider what we have heard before, so we regard the final A section, A3, a bit differently than we did A1 and A2.    Images via , , and .

But beneath the surface,  the B section invites us to reconsider what we have heard before, so we regard the final A section, A3, a bit differently than we did A1 and A2.

 Images via,, and

Usually, a middle eight comes around twice or more in a song.

Recall that the basic form for a song with a middle eight is AABA, where the A sections are the verses and B is the middle eight.  When middle eights are used,  components of the song form are generally shorter.  (Recall, for instance, that these songs generally don’t have standalone choruses.  Instead they use verses that include a refrain, which thus does the work of a chorus—hammering home the song’s big idea.) As a result, in songs with middle eights, the AABA form extends—AABABAABA for example.  So we typically hear the middle eight twice or more.

Compare that with the form of a typical modern pop song that uses full-blown choruses:

Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Chorus Bridge Verse Chorus Chorus

If you think of each verse / chorus combination as an A section and the bridge as the B section, this form can be simplified to AABA.  The length of the sections makes it unlikely that the bridge would reoccur, though it can happen.

What this means is that songs with middle eights work their magic through repetition of lighter elements.  Perhaps the move away from this model may have something to do with how our addiction to big pop choruses has driven things.

If you want to listen to more songs with middle eights, the long list includes . . .

A slew of Beatles songs including “We Can Work It Out.”
The verses end with the refrain “We can work it out.” 
The middle eights begin “Life is very short . . . ”

All kinds of Motown hits, including “Shop Around”
The verses end with the refrain “My mama told me ‘You better shop around.’”
The middle eights begin with “’Try to get yourself a bargain son . . .’”

A number of Reggae songs, including Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross”
The verses all begin with the refrain “Many rivers to cross . . .”
The middle eight (which happens only once) begins with “And this loneliness won’t leave me alone . . .”

Stevie Wonder songs, including “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
The verses all begin with the refrain “You are the sunshine of my life”
The first middle eight begins with “I feel like this is the beginning . . . ”
The second middle eight begins with “You must have known that I was lonely.”

Everly Brothers hits, including “Crying in the Rain”
The verses all end with the refrain “I’ll do my crying in the rain.”
The middle eight begins with “Raindrops falling from heaven . . .”

“Crying in the Rain” is one of the many hits written by Carole King and Gerry Goffen that use middle eights.  Another example would be “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
The verses all end with the refrain “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
The middle eights begin with “Tonight, with words unspoken . . .”

Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You”
The verses all begin and end with with the refrain “Lovin you.”
She adds a vocal interlude at the end of each set of verses “La la la la . . .”
The middle eights begin with “No one else can make me feel the colors that you bring. . .”

Thank you for reading. In the next two posts, I will give some examples of how analogs to song bridges appear in film and literature.

Song Bridges

Bridge is a musical term that refers to a particular section of a song.  The term is used variously.  Today, when musicians speak of a bridge, they are likely referring to a section later in a song, where a dramatic shift in mood occasions a reconsideration or development of the song’s established ideas.  

I want to focus on this usage because it illuminates an important technique employed not only by musicians but also by artists working in other forms. In order to get to that conversation (a few posts from now), I want to nail down the idea of how a bridge works in music.

A Crisis

You can think of a bridge as a song’s midlife crisis, the point at which the song says “I need to think things over, and try new things.” The song must pass through that crisis to find its deepest meaning.

 Imagine a person going through a midlife crisis.

  •  She questions what she’s done with her life, her career choices, her values, her relationships. 
  •  Her questioning might demand that she find a change of scenery so she can think things through—a trek through the desert and mountains.  (Okay, just go read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.)  The change in scene helps her process the questions she is asking herself. 
  •  When she returns from journey, she finds that she is not another person, but perhaps has a deeper understanding of who she has always been.

 A bridge does something similar.

  • It questions the song’s assumptions and/or discovers a new way of looking at things. 
  • It accompanies this questioning by traveling through new musical terrain.  It has to get away from where it has been in order to gain perspective.  Think of standing on an actual bridge and taking in the view.  That's the idea.

  • As a result of this questioning and travel through new musical terrain, a song gains a deeper understanding of what it has always been.

And just as we don’t think of a midlife crisis happening at age fifteen, a bridge must wait for the main ideas and musical landscape to be established.  Only then can a song go away and have its midlife crisis.

Example 1, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)

The bridge here begins at 2:03.  Notice how the song shifts from sass to something heavier.  You can hear this in the musical setting and also in the lyrics:

Don't treat me to these things of the world
I'm not that kind of girl
Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve

Note how this dual shift (musical and lyrical) expands the meaning of the refrain “If you wanted it you should’ve put a ring on it” when the song returns to the chorus.  Up until the bridge, the refrain has suggested “Too bad for you.”  After the bridge, however, it means “too bad for us.  I wanted you too, but you blew it and now we both have to pay.”

 In this sense, the bridge expands the song’s sense of itself.

Example 2, "Beautiful Day"

The bridge here begins at the 2:15 mark.  Again, notice the dual dimensions of this shift—musical and lyrical.

Musically, the drums disappear and clouds of synthesizers rise over the mix.  The bridge leaves behind the familiar melodic motif of the verses and choruses and establishes something new, over a new chord progression.

Lyrically, the images are seen from a new angle.  The scenes in the verses are local and happen at street level:

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground
But there's no room, no space to rent in this town
You're out of luck and the reason that you had to care,
The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere.

The bridge lyrics, however, are global and suggest a perspective higher up, a helicopter or perhaps a satellite.

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out

Note also the references to images of destruction, the ransacking of the oceans and plundering of the earth.  Time is running out.

 As the song returns to the final choruses, the stakes have thus been raised and “It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it slip away” takes on greater urgency.

Example 3 — "A Day in the Life"

“A Day in the Life” is a good illustration of the fact that bridges are often written because a songwriter says, “it needs something here.”  The rest of the song had been written, but the Beatles felt it needed more.  When they recorded the song, they left a gap for the bridge, which they created after the fact and edited into the body of the song.  The story is related in various places, including Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions (pages 96-97).

After a long transition from the main body of the song, the bridge begins at around 2:15.  Again, you can note two shifts, musical and lyrical.

Musically, the song shifts to new terrain—a new key (E major), a new rhythmic feel (double-time), and a different audio environment (the mix now sounds as if we are in a small room as opposed to the vast expanse suggested in the body of the song).  Also, we’ve got a new singer, Paul instead of John.

The lyrical shift moves us from someone caught in reflection —“I read the news today oh boy” — to someone caught in the rat race — “Found my coat and grabbed my hat / Made the bus in seconds flat.”  And whereas the verses evoke the sense of camera slowly panning across distant happenings, the bridge suggests a handheld camera rushing through scenes at close range.

Again, these contrasts, musical and lyrical, return us to the final verse with a deepened sense of the song’s dimensions and meaning.  After the breathless folly depicted in the bridge, the voice addressing us in the final verse feels wiser.

Thank you for reading and listening.  The next post will explore a particular type of bridge known as a middle eight.