Great Middle-eights of Rock and Roll; or, Where’s that Confounded Bridge?

The middle eight has been a mainstay of Tin Pan Alley and popular songwriting generally for well over a century.  To what can we attribute the durability of this scheme?  In all honesty, the bridge can be downright perfunctory if not distractingly bad.  But when those eight bars are right, they can elevate a song from good to great.  Here are a few of my favorite eight-bar asides:

Bob Dylan – “I Want You” from Blonde on Blonde (1966): “All my fathers, they’ve gone down…”, This is a textbook middle-eight.  It feels neither routine nor out of place and features some of Dylan’s most poignant lyrics.

The Beatles – “You Can’t Do That” from A Hard Day’s Night (1964): “Everybody’s greeeee-eeeen…”, I love the harmonies here.  Like all truly great mid-eights, this one could quite possibly have been another fantastic song altogether.

Elvis Costello – “Welcome to the Working Week” from My Aim Is True (1977): “I hear you saying that the city’s alright…”, Though it clocks in at 1:23, this feels longer than it is because it’s so bursting with ideas.  It sets the frenetic pace for the best album of 1977 (apologies to the Clash and Television).

Any additions?

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 1960s, 1970s, Pop, Rock

9 responses to “Great Middle-eights of Rock and Roll; or, Where’s that Confounded Bridge?

  1. Cool post. I know them when I hear them, and all of the one’s you’ve selected are great, but it’s hard to think of them off the top of your head. I hope you get some more suggestions.

  2. Jordy

    Thanks, Paul. Another great one is in the Everly’s “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” It makes a beautifully aching song all the more so.

  3. Jeff Wheeler

    Maybe it’s the mention of the old ‘Alley, but the one that always springs to my mind is Mo Tucker singing:
    “Dark cloudy bars
    Shiny Cadillac cars…”
    at the end of the wimpier Velvet Underground album. It’s a little too textbook actually, the song overall is a keeper, I feel.

  4. Jordy

    I like that song too, Jeff.

  5. Joel B.

    The Beatles “We Can Work It Out” has one of the most signficant middle eights in all of pop as it demonstrates the distinct songwriting styles of Lennon and McCartney. The verses and chorus are fundamentally Macca; melodic, commercial and optimistic (“Try to see it my way . . .”)whereas the bridge is Lennon at his acerbic best; bluesy, pessimistic and to the point (“Life if very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend”). Absolutely brilliant!

  6. Read R.

    Great post, and great comment, Joel B.
    The bridge/middle 8th of the Clash’s “I’m Not Down” has always been particularly moving to me – “like skyscrapers, rising up, floor by floor, I’m not giving up”

  7. tim

    From Faithless Love, J.D. Souther…. Well I guess I’m standin’ in the hall of broken dreams…

  8. Pretenders “Back on the Chain Gang”. The rest of the song wouldn’t be near as poignant without it!

  9. Jason A.

    I’m surprised that no one has addressed the bridge in The Proclaimers “500 Miles”.
    Actually, the amazing thing is that the entire song is a bridge, so the “bridge” in 500 Miles, is the part where they sing “When I’m lonely, well I know I’m gonna be…” really, really quietly over a muted guitar, before literally EXPLODING back into the chorus “But I will walk 500 Miles, and I will walk 500 more!!!”
    One time I was listening to his on my iPod on the subway and I started singing it outloud without realizing it! Everyone was looking at me kind of funny, but then one guy sort of clapped, in a slow, sarcastic kind of way.
    Anyway, awesome song, awesome band, awesome bridge.

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