A Hymn Bridge Done Right: "Greater Still"

A Hymn Bridge Done Right: "Greater Still" July 18, 2011

Some people think it’s “cheating” for a songwriter to make use of a hymn for the bridge of his song. The idea is that the song needs to be good enough to stand on its own, and falling back on a hymn to carry it at the climactic point is like using a crutch. I can see both sides to the debate. On the one hand, it is a slight disappointment when a writer doesn’t put in the effort to come up with a new thought of his own and instead “plays it safe.” On the other hand, there’s an evil part of me that says, “Hey, maybe he would have come up with something dreadful and ruined the song anyway, so perhaps it’s just as well that he let Charles Wesley handle it.”

All kidding aside, I guess I’m just more relaxed than some about hymn bridges. And sometimes it just works, mate. Case in point, the title track of Brian Free & Assurance’s album Greater Still. The piano begins with a suggestion of the melody for “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” and then launches into the intro for the song, which has Assurance’s signature “swing.” Another musical hint is dropped in the chorus on the phrase “God’s grace.” For the bridge, they finally go all the way and sing most of the chorus of “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” syncopating the rhythm just slightly so that it fits with the rest of the song. They dive right back into the song chorus instead of singing the last line of the hymn chorus, after which the piano once more echoes the hymn melody to finish it off. It’s all done so tastefully and cohesively that the listener never once feels like the hymn has been awkwardly shoe-horned in just because everybody ran out of ideas. It’s woven into the fabric of the song as opposed to being tacked on.
Oh, I forgot to add that it has Tony Wood’s name on it, and I recently learned that Wayne Haun produced it. Which explains everything, of course.
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  • quartet-man

    Some of the times it is done is great. (Examples include “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin” on “Grace” by the Martins, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on “Truth is Marching On” , “Under His Wings” on “Under His Wings” 😀 by the Ruppes / Sisters among others), but what bothers me is when people thrown and obligatory one in. Some songs lend themselves to it and one hears it ahead of time, others are great surprises that work well. However, at times they seem to be forced in so they can say they did it or because the song is weak and needs the boost. The latter are the ones that are annoying.

  • Right. That’s why I said that I don’t go for it every time, but I think this one is a good example of a strong song that meshes well with the hymn, both musically and lyrically.

  • quartet-man

    I’m not sure if my typos above are the computer, or my failure to multitask well. I think the latter this time. 😀

  • This is kind of funny, because just yesterday my husband and I were driving and played George (Younce) singing his “Row Your Boat” song. He wrote it himself, and … well … there are more profound songs. (“Some folks sail a boat that won’t ride level, row, row, row. But it’ll straighten up if you’ll pitch out the devil, row, row, row.”) Anyway, in the intro, ending, and a bridge that even includes lyrics, he uses “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” In his bridge he follows that with, “Glory, glory, hallelujah, I have been redeemed.”
    Now you probably know that I enjoy listening to pretty nearly anything that George sang, but I don’t blame the folks that can’t get much out of this one! Anyway, it made me think about these “bridge” discussions. This is definitely a tongue-in-cheek one. Does it “work”? Depends on what your cheese-tolerance level is.

  • That’s hilarious!

  • Oh, also, on the intro and ending, that song is “worked in” by playing it on a bass guitar at about double the tempo of the more laid-back song itself.
    You really do need to hear it, though. I actually enjoy it. And if EH&SS sang it, you’d probably like it too. 😛

  • I’d include “Songs of Zion” on Tribute’s new project, where they go into “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.”

  • I love the “Old Rugged Cross” inserted into “I’ll Never Be Over The Hill” from the Original Hinsons’ “One More Hallelujah” album. It’s only piano and it’s very brief but it fits perfectly.

  • T. Nelson

    Yes, Tony Wood is a fine writer, but credit for this particular move belongs to Wayne Haun who produced the project. The original song didn’t have a bridge.

  • Ah, okay. Well no surprise there, Wayne is a great talent.
    I hadn’t really considered that the decision to include a hymn bridge may not originate with the writer, but rather with the producer. That’s an interesting point.