MusicNerd: The Middle 8 Makes Good Songs Great

The not-so-secret ingredient in every songwriter’s toolbox is the middle 8. This is where the song seems to take a short break before returning to its main verse and chorus.

Interesting lyrics, a beautiful melody, a great chorus, and a beautiful unique voice are all essential ingredients for good songs.

But what takes good songs and turns them into classics, songs that are not only loved by millions, but are still classics that still pay off decades and thousands of listens later ?

The not-so-secret ingredient in every songwriter’s toolbox is the middle 8. This is where the song seems to take a short break before returning to its main verse and chorus.

The easiest way to explain what the middle 8 is and the variety of ways it can be used is with examples. There are many “best middle 8” lists online and I pulled a few and added a few.

One song that regularly makes top 8 middle lists is Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run because it’s perfect for the song, a dreamy interlude that sets up the grand finale. Right after the sax solo, Springsteen charges all of his listeners into a carnival, starting with the slow, big climb to the first drop of a roller coaster that ends with the classic line “I want to die with you, Wendy , on the street tonight, in an eternal kiss. Then the band go down the roller coaster as the song rushes frantically to that huge “bom-bom-bom-bom-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BABA !” before The Boss counted the band (and listeners) down for that “last chance at power.”

Born To Run contains many of the 8 most common elements of the medium – changing volume, speed and pitch (or their illusion), all used to increase the emotion and tension of the song.

It’s called the middle 8 because it’s often only 8 bars long (8 bars in 4/4 or 32 beats) but it can be much longer or can be used more than once, depending on the song and its length, but it ends up coming back to the gain of that final chorus.

Some of the most memorable Middle 8 sound like completely different songs, with new elements, melodies, and even vocalists. John Lennon and Paul McCartney loved doing this in Beatles songs, practically splashing cold water in the listener’s face with the middle 8 section in songs like We Can Work It Out and A Day In The Life.

In Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, the song comes to an abrupt halt on an 8 in the middle where John McVie drops one of the most famous bass hits in rock history, evolving into a guitar solo and then a version different but familiar from the main chorus. The band borrowed from themselves for this middle 8 and ending, taking it from a song called Keep Me There that they recorded at the start of the Rumors sessions.

The prog-rock fan in me loves the middle 8 on Rush’s Limelight because it seamlessly transitions into the guitar solo (it counts in 3/4 or 6/8 (?) before returning to 4/4 and the final chorus ). I also like Blondie’s Heart of Glass’ clever middle 8, which counts in 7s (or skips a beat every second), disturbing people on the dance floor.

I also like the middle 8’s which put up huge powerful and emotional punches as the vocalist takes the listener into the stratosphere. This is the common point between More Than A Feeling by Boston, Good Mother by Jann Arden, Welcome To The Jungle by Guns N’ Roses and the cover of I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton by Whitney Houston.

The middle 8 of The Rolling Stones’ Miss You is a pure middle 8 – just eight bars that allow the song to go back and start again, with Mick Jagger pleading “Oh everyone’s been waiting so long, oh baby, why are you waiting so long ? Won’t you come, come?

Taylor Swift’s Blank Space also has a pure middle 8 where she releases her foot to sum up the whole song with “boys only want love when it’s torture, don’t say I didn’t warn you. ” Shake It Off also has a super middle 8 section.

Now that you know the middle 8, you’ll be looking for them in your old and new favorites. The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, Adele’s latest hit, Oh My God, and Lizzo’s brand new single, About Damn Time, all have great 8s in the middle.

Not every song has an 8 in the middle (and there are classics like Dolly Parton’s Jolene that don’t need it because they’re perfect as they are) but when a good song needs that little something extra, an 8 in the middle is the best tool for the job.