Note: This is the penultimate Ten Days of Hamilton post. There should be a bonus review posted sometime after I see Hamilton: An American Musical this weekend.
This is the last “official” entry into the Ten Days of Hamilton series, and since I have covered most of Hamilton’s individual relationships, I felt it was time to return to the musical Hamilton and discuss what is probably the best part of the whole thing: the songs. I’m not going to rank all of the songs, as there are over 40 included on the Original Broadway Cast album, which will be my source for the list. Besides, many of the songs are short snippets and not full songs, so it would seem silly to include a lot of those in a rankings list. Also, some of the songs are related, so it’s hard to separate them out so they’ve been ranked together. An example would be the three songs sung by King George III, an underrated character in the whole thing primarily because of his songs.
I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve listened to the album; it’s kind of what I listen too when I’ve run out of podcasts for the week or just need some background music while doing other things. I was raised listening to musical theater, so this is not entirely unexpected, though the affection that I’ve felt for this music has been something I’ve only experienced with the music of Ben Folds. I’m hoping the experience of seeing the musical live lives up to the experience of the album, and I’m sure that it will. So, without further delay, here is my ranking of the best songs* from the musical Hamilton:
*I stopped at 25, though I could have probably done 15 and listed all my favorite songs. Honorable mention to all the short songs, reprises, “Take a Break,” and “Washington On Your Side.”
25) Non-Stop – The final song of Act 1, this song acts as a bridge to get Hamilton from his post war life in New York to serving in Washington’s cabinet as Treasury Secretary.
24) That Would Be Enough – Hamilton has a hard time convincing himself that he will ever be more than a poor immigrant orphan from the Caribbean, and in this song, Eliza tries to convince him that him surviving the Revolution would “be enough” for her. It is in this song, after Hamilton is sent home by Washington, that he learns of Eliza’s pregnancy, giving him yet another thing to live for.
23) Say No To This – Alexander Hamilton is busy working and Maria Reynolds tempts him into an affair by being less than truthful about her husband. This turns into a huge blackmail conspiracy, resulting in Hamilton making payments to Maria’s husband to remain quiet. The low point in Hamilton’s life to be sure.
22) You’ll Be Back/What Comes Next?/I Know Him – King George III’s song are lumped together because they have similar themes. The first is after the Declaration of Independence leading up to the Revolutionary War, the second is after the Battle of Yorktown and the looming end of the war, and the third is King George’s reflections on the selection of John Adams to follow George Washington’s footsteps as president.
21) Aaron Burr, Sir – This is where we are first formally introduced to our narrator and main antagonist Aaron Burr. It helps establish Burr as a rival to Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s other friends. A nice jumping off point in their relationship.
20) Ten Duel Commandments – This song is important because it introduces dueling to the audience, something that occurs three times during the course of the whole thing. The “Commandments” are revisited again in “Blow Us All Away” and “The World Was Wide Enough.”
19) Blow Us All Away – This song introduces us to an adult Philip Hamilton, who, after hearing of disparaging remarks about his father, challenges Charles Eaker to a duel. The song culminates in his death, and some of the most heart-wrenching screaming ever heard in a song by Eliza when she discovers him on his deathbed.
18) Hurricane/The Reynolds Pamphlet – These songs are together because they are linked together with similar themes. In “Hurricane,” Hamilton feels the world closing in on him, similar to when he experienced a hurricane as a boy in Nevis. He’s worried about his political future – the song immediately follows “We Know,” where Hamilton is shown that his rivals know his secrets – which leads him to publishing the Reynolds Pamphlet, which announces his affair to the world. Instead of redeeming him, it may have been solely repsonsible for ending his political career.
17) Cabinet Battle #1/Cabinet Battle #2 – I put the cabinet battles together because they are similar in structure: they both feature Hamilton and Jefferson debating rap battle-style over things for President Washington. First, for Hamilton’s funding plan and assuming state debts, and second, over the decision to intervene in the French Revolution.
16) Right Hand Man – This is our first real introduction to the Father of Our Country, and we see Hamilton joining up with Washington as his aide-de-camp. A strong song for such a strong presence in Hamilton’s life.
15) Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) – This song describes the Battle of Yorktown, the winning victory for the Colonists over the British Empire. Though the Revolutionary War didn’t win right after the British surrender at Yorktown, it was effectively over and the British lost the will to fight. Very triumphant song.
14) What I’d Miss – Thomas Jefferson arrives on the scene with a jaunty jazz tunes after being in France during the Revolution (and being Lafayette in Act 1). Jefferson would be partially responsible for the downfall of Hamilton, if only by being a strong presence and not necessarily letting Hamilton just do whatever he wants. It also lays out a lot of the reasons why they would soon have friction, and the foundation for the political parties in our country.
13) Burn – Eliza gets her moment to shine, and it’s when she is destroying the letters that she received from Hamilton in light of the Reynolds Pamphlet. She is a scorned woman, one that truly loved Alexander, and she feels betrayed by everything that he has done, and she reflects on the entirety of their relationshipo looking for clues into this seemingly out of character behavior. Powerful stuff.
12) Your Obedient Servent – This song covers the exchange of correspondence between Burr and Hamilton leading up to their fateful duel. Burr felt wronged by some of the things that Hamilton may have said about him, while Hamilton couldn’t lose face by apolgizing for them. It’s a song that includes different styles that really helps to show the formality of the day.
11) One Last Time – I’ve always felt that George Washington was a bit of a reluctant president. But he was a lifelong servant to his country, and being the first president helped establish the America that evolved into what we have today. If only we had listened to some of the advice that he gives in this song, which includes a couplke paragraphs from his Farewell Address, which was written (mostly) by Hamilton.
10) Dear Theodosia – After the Revolutionary War, Hamilton and Burr both return home to meet children they knew about but had yet to meet. They sing of great expectations for their children and how fatherhood has already changed them. This song always reminds me of “Still Fighting It” by Ben Folds, and I feel a lot of the same emotions that song evokes when I hear “Dear Theodosia.”
9) The Schuyler Sisters – The introduction of the sisters is important, as two of three – Angelica and Eliza – were very important in the life of Hamilton (even Peggy was someone that the real Alexander Hamilton had great affection for). This song is often compared to a Destiny’s Child song, and I would agree, and the delivery of Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica is magnificent.
8) Wait For It – Aaron Burr lays out his philosophy in this song, a philosophy that runs counter to what Alexander Hamilton believes. Whereas Hamilton is making the future for himself, Burr is willing to wait for success to come to him, something that doesn’t quite work out for him, leading to him to change course with “The Room Where It Happens.”
7) The Room Where It Happens – This song is the first indication that we get that Aaron Burr is going to take control of his destiny and seek power instead of waiting for it to come to him. He ran for president (twice), senator, and governor seeking that power, which ultimately may have been the source of his downfall.
6) Alexander Hamilton – This song is the opening number, and it is very important in introducing our main character to the world. It also is an abridged version of the first part of Hamilton’s life, something that will be touched on in later songs. This was also the first song written for the musical – which makes sense – and the first thing that anybody ever heard from the musical.
5) Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story – This is the big finale, and we get all the postscript from the various characters about the impact that Alexander had on them and America. It is probably best, however, when it dives into the post-Alexander life of Eliza, covering all of the great things that she did to maintain his (and others) legacy long after he died.
4) Helpless/Satisfied – I put these songs together because they both tell the story of how Eliza and Alexander met, though they are sung from different perspectives. “Helpless” is Eliza telling the story of the meeting and having been introduced at the ball by Angelica. “Satisfied” is the same story but told from Angelica’s perspective and includes her personal feelings about Alexander and how she wishes that she could have had him instead of her sister.
3) My Shot – More than any other song, “My Shot” lays out Hamilton’s motivations for why he came to America, and it becomes even stronger once he decided to throw away his shot in the duel with Burr. He spent all his time telling everyone that would listen that he wasn’t planning on “throwing away his shot,” until finally doing so at the cost of his life.
2) It’s Quiet Uptown – After the death of their son Philip Hamilton in a duel, Eliza and Alexander are grieving parents (as to be expected). Eliza still was in the process of forgiving Alexander for the Reynolds Pamphlet, and the death of their oldest son brought them back together and led to their reconciliation. Their last child – their eighth – was named Philip in honor of his older brother, and he was born only two years before Alexander himself was killed in a duel.
1) The World Was Wide Enough – This is the fateful duel song, and in it we witness Aaron Burr come to terms with his legacy as “the villian in [our] history.” I made the argument last week that Hamilton seems to be more about Burr than Hamilton, and this song kind of brings this home.
It’s honestly hard to rank the songs since I enjoy them all in their own way. But there are definitely some stronger songs than others, so I hope that this list – which is subject to change on a whim – is good enough. Feel free to tell me how I am wrong.
Until next time…