The Connector Hook

BridgeLate have I discovered that David Bordwell proposes his own distinctive hook concept for purposes of analyzing movie continuity. A Bordwellian hook is an image or sound idea at the end of a scene that is picked up again at the start of the next scene so that the transition has logic and force. It’s a microstructural connector.

In a movie, the Bordwellian hook sustains or heightens a sense of forward progress in the story and underlines points that may or may not be important. The connectors of greatest interest are the ones that add a new element of meaning to a work—irony, for example, as in a scene transition in a Simpsons episode cited by Bordwell:  “Homer [in his living room]: ‘I predict that this is the last we’ll be hearing about prohibition.’ Cut to enraged women [in a courtroom] chanting ‘We want prohibition!’”

For a strict analogue to a Bordwellian hook in music we would need to find two adjacent events, one at the end of one section and another at the beginning of the next, which together guide the listener into new territory.

A simple example of a musical connector of this sort is in the second transition from verse to bridge in “When I’m Sixty-Four” (The Beatles, 1967). The verse and the bridge are in different keys and moods, but they’re tied together snugly by the bridge melody starting on the same note that the verse melody just ended on.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” end of second verse/chorus, start of second bridge

That is a connector, sure enough, but not yet a connector hook, in my opinion. It does structural work, and Paul may be rightly pleased with it from a craft point of view, but it isn’t salient and enjoyable for how it does that. We must look further.

I think we do enjoy a connector hook in “The Boys Of Summer” (Don Henley, 1984). I’ll call it a 3-3-2 figure because it gets its form from a repeating three-note figure deployed against the beat like this:

  1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –
Gb –  –  F  –  – Db –

(This is an alternate way of dividing the eight 8th-notes in a four-beat measure, a 3-3-2 layered over the 2-2-2-2 of the beat.)

“The Boys Of Summer” verse, chorus, start of next verse

The 3-3-2 figure is heard from the beginning of the song in a synth voice, sounding like time speeding by in intense little cycles. It sounds good repeated with all three chords (E-flat minor, C-flat, D-flat) used in the verse. Once we’re in the chorus, this figure drops out. But then it seems to be coming back at the end—“sum – mer have” are going to be those three notes, except that the third note of the pattern, the D-flat, is sandwiched between “have,” a step lower, and the second note of “gone,” a step higher, to make an additional three-note pattern, making altogether a nice five-note knot of “summer have gone.” Then comes the Bordwellian hook, buttoning two sections together, as the original 3-3-2 figure starts the next verse.

This is good, but not amazing.

For amazing, how about this moment in “I Want A New Drug” (Huey Lewis and the News, 1984)? The verse becomes increasingly agitated and then settles down at the end, sweetened by extra voices, just before flipping over to the next verse, conveying the shift from desperately needing a drug to having the right drug kick in.

“I Want A New Drug,” second verse into instrumental bridge

More specifically, it’s the sequence from (a) really needing some drug or other to get well, to (b) having that same wild, distracting hunger to be with you, to (c) a memory or foretaste of what it’s uniquely, blissfully like to be alone with you. The connector is “with you.” What connector could you want more than that?

The problem is, that is the connector everyone wants. All the advertisers in the world speak of their desire to be with you. Even your bank, to whom “with you” transparently means “with your money.” So the “with you” hook could also be called The Most Commercial—precisely the conception of hooks we must keep at arm’s length! Our search for the greatest connector hook must continue.[1]

Meanwhile, I wonder why these hooks are rather hard to find. I guess it’s that we usually don’t need them to feel the unity of a song; a pop song’s normal flow of beat and harmony (actually a dense weave of microstructural connectors throughout) is plenty to keep us well-oriented, and unless we’re trying to follow a strange narrative in the lyrics we don’t face the difficulty of figuring out where we are and what’s happening that movie cuts so often pose. The musical connector hooks I’ve pointed out are nice extra touches, not bridges over chasms.


“Do you know how many times he said he’d quit?”

“No, but if you hum a few bars . . .”

Dear readers, my signing-off time has come again. A third Outro will be in the next post.


[1] Hooks rules prohibit employees of the site from designating their own work as the greatest example of anything, but I can report on my favorite connector hook to play and sing: it’s the B-flat at the end of the bridge of “Zipper Dear” (The Assemblers, 1998), a note belonging to the C-seventh chord that is held over to become a superdissonant sharp-fourth against the E chord of the verse (so that the B-flat note is transubstantiated into an A-sharp). This expresses the father’s anguish at being unable to enforce the rules of decency (B-flat “can’t be – ”) for his budding daughter (A-sharp “ – eeeeee”).


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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