Bridges and the vanishing Final Verse

Today, virtually every Southern Gospel song needs a bridge to get cut.

But back in the day—through the 1970s or so—Southern Gospel songwriting still fell solidly within the hymnwriting tradition, where a rousing final verse was the capstone to a great song. The last verse filled the conceptual territory now held by the bridge.

Somewhere about that time, Southern Gospel songwriters took a cue from contemporary music and incorporated bridges. Here’s a little secret: Many bridges follow a simple formula. You take a lyric the length of a full or half verse, set the melody a third interval above the melody of the verses, and perhaps toss in a bonus chord transition. Then you transpose either to the next key up, or up a fourth or fifth interval if you’re writing for a group.

It’s not that I’m bashing bridges. They can be effective if they’re not over-used. Compare a bridge to your favorite type of sandwich. You enjoy it several times a week, but five or six days of the week, every week, is too much.

How did we get to where bridges replaced the final verse?

And should the final verse make a comeback?

(Note. To those who dislike puns, give me some credit. This post nearly ran with the title Bridges versus Verses.)