This year, Hamilton took home 11 Tony Awards, a predictable but exciting sweep that highlights how important and resonant the musical is on and off Broadway.
This major victory for the show is somewhat bittersweet, happening just as contract negotiations are going on, with many of the performers potentially leaving the show (Jonathan Groff left in April, while Phillipa Soo and creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda are set to leave next month). As someone who has yet to see the show but knows the cast album inside and out, the idea that I may never get to see Hamilton with most of its original cast is upsetting. Thankfully, the cast album can serve as a document of how tremendous this collection of performers was. To celebrate the show’s victory at the Tonys, as well as the sadness of the cast leaving, here is every song from Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording, ranked.
46. “The Adams Administration” (Disc 2, Track 11)
In a way, t’s unfair to rank reprises and songs that exist merely for storytelling purposes alongside the major songs. It’s somewhat akin to ranking the tracks on a hip-hop album and including skits. So, while songs like “The Adams Administration” rank low, they do still serve a purpose. Here, we see what happens after George Washington leaves office and John Adams takes over. Hamilton (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) loses his seat, Adams insults him and Hamilton shoots back. Short and sweet, this one doesn’t overstay its welcome. But is the fat-shaming really necessary, Alexander?
Devastating line: “Hamilton’s a host unto himself. As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat. Let’s let him know what we know”
45. “Schuyler Defeated” (Disc 2, Track 6)
Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler (played by Sydney James Harcourt) loses his Senate seat to Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.), beginning the Hamilton-Burr rivalry that will eventually lead to the duel. This one mostly reprises the tune of “The Schuyler Sisters,” but it effectively shows how Hamilton and Burr’s bad blood began.
Devastating line: “I changed parties to seize the opportunity I saw/I swear your pride will be the death of us all/Beware, it goeth before the fall”
44. “The Story of Tonight (Reprise)” (Disc 1, Track 12)
A bunch of bros hanging out, celebrating their friend’s marriage. A funny minor song, showing the aftermath of Alexander’s marriage in “Satisfied” and setting up Burr’s “Wait for It,” this reprise also seems to serve the purpose of giving the audience a break in between the two biggest tearjerkers in the show.
Devastating line: “I will never understand you/If you love this woman, go get her! What are you waiting for?”
43. “I Know Him” (Disc 2, Track 10)
King George III (played by Jonathan Groff) reacts to the news of Washington stepping down from the presidency and being replaced by “that little guy who spoke to me all those years ago” John Adams. All of the King George songs feature the same melody, but this one is distinctive because it’s the only one where he’s not feeling down. The prospect of Adams’ presidency tearing apart the country fills him with such glee (no pun intended, Mr. Groff) that it’s somewhat intoxicating.
Devastating line: “All alone, watch them run/They will tear each other in to pieces/Jesus Christ, this will be fun!”
42. “History Has Its Eyes on You” (Disc 1, Track 19)
Washington (played by Christopher Jackson) gives Hamilton a command and tells of his own first command, in which a third of his soldiers were killed. “And even now I lie awake/Knowing history has its eyes on me,” he sings. The first act of Hamilton is all about regret, and seeing that even the seemingly immortal Washington is haunted by the mistakes of his past gives the tragedy at hand tremendous weight. “History Has Its Eyes on You” is not one of the better songs by any means, but it does humanize Washington, who at this point has been mythologized, and it also gives Hamilton its thesis…
Devastating line: “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/When I was young and dreamed of glory/You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”
41. “Farmer Refuted” (Disc 1, Track 6)
A musical interpretation of Hamilton’s responses to loyalist Samuel Seabury (played by Thayne Jasperson), “Farmer Refuted” is a fun song, showing the young Hamilton’s skillful and quip-filled debating (“I pray the king shows you his mercy,” Seabury says, before Hamilton shoots back, “Is he in Jersey?”). However, the cabinet battles handle a similar concept better later on, and this stands as the low point of the masterful first 11 songs.
Devastating line: “Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties”
40. “We Know” (Disc 2, Track 12)
Thomas Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs), James Madison (played by Okieriete Onaodowan) and Burr confront Hamilton about his affair with Maria Reynolds. Against chilling music that brings to mind old detective shows (fitting for what basically amounts to an interrogation), Hamilton defends himself against the accusations and they ultimately agree not to tell anyone. But as Burr says, “Alexander, rumors only grow. And we both know what we know.”
Devastating line: “I hope you saved some money for your daughter and sons”
39. “Best of Wives and Best of Women” (Disc 2, Track 21)
The shortest song on the album, “Best of Wives and Best of Women” shows Hamilton writing his last letter to his wife Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo) the night before his death as she asks him to come back to bed, one of her many pieces of advice that he ignores. A sad, poignant song, it also serves as a love letter to Miranda’s wife Vanessa, as he states in Hamilton: The Revolution. In that regard, it’s very touching, but in the context of Hamilton, it also begs the question: where’s the glory in being “Best of wives and best of women” if the husband ignores her good advice?
Devastating line: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” (a repeated line in Hamilton that gains power here as Alexander literally runs out of time)
38. “Meet Me Inside” (Disc 1, Track 16)
In the aftermath of the duel between John Laurens and Charles Lee, Washington berates Hamilton, before sending him home to his wife. “Meet Me Inside” brings the Washington-Hamilton relationship to the forefront, while also dealing with the complexity of Washington’s attempts at being a paternal figure for his right hand man.
Devastating line: “Call me son one more time!”
37. “Your Obedient Servant” (Disc 2, Track 20)
“Your Obedient Servant” may have been musically inspired by Dessa’s “Dixon’s Girl” (from her must-listen A Badly Broken Code), which gives it a distinctive quality. Story-wise, it shows the aftermath of Hamilton’s endorsement of Thomas Jefferson for president, as Burr writes to him to set up a duel. With their “A dot Burr” and “A dot Ham” signatures, this one is more adorable than a song about two men planning to shoot at each other should be.
Devastating line: “I don’t wanna fight/But I won’t apologize for doing what’s right”
36. “What Comes Next?” (Disc 1, Track 21)
After losing the war, King George moves from the “You’ll be back” part of the breakup to the “You won’t make it without me” portion (talk about being a sore loser). Along with the iconic “Awesome. Wow!,” “What Comes Next?” succeeds because of how it finds empathy with the monarch. As he pathetically says things like “Do you know how hard it is to lead?” and “When your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me,” we get a glimpse at his self-consciousness and, for just a minute, he doesn’t look so different from Hamilton. After all, does anyone seek power without a desire to prove themselves?
Devastating line: “Oceans rise/Empires fall/It’s much harder when it’s all your call”
35. “A Winter’s Ball” (Track 1, Track 9)
A cute song that shows Burr and Hamilton’s bonding over being similarly “reliable with the ladies,” “A Winter’s Ball” works to show their friendship before it’s inevitably torn apart later in the story. It also introduces the titular ball, in which the magnificent one-two punch of “Helpless” and “Satisfied” occurs. (The beautiful transition from this song into “Helpless” is the biggest moment I missed before getting the CD.)
Devastating line: “There are so many to deflower!” (Burr, nooooooooo!)
34. “The Reynolds Pamphlet” (Disc 2, Track 14)
The aftermath of Hamilton admitting to his affair, as told through what Greil Marcus describes as a “Founding Fathers playground tease.” The only song on the album that I would classify as electronic, the music on “The Reynolds Pamphlet” brings to mind industrial music, while the cycling beat reminds me of “WYHUOM” from The Uncluded’s underrated Hokey Fright. These distinctive musical qualities make it more enjoyable than other pieces of exposition on disc two.
Devastating line: “He’s never gon’ be President now”
33. “Blow Us All Away” (Disc 2, Track 16)
Philip Hamilton (played by Anthony Ramos) has one of the more tragic arcs in Hamilton, which features plenty of them. We first meet him in the joyous “Dear Theodosia,” as his father sings about how much happiness his son brings him. He then appears in “Take a Break” as a nine-year-old boy, learning French and writing poems. Then, “Blow Us All Away” introduces him as a 19-year-old man, ambitious and resembling his father. Desperate to defend his father’s honor against George Eacker, Philip schedules a duel, which Alexander tells him to end by aiming his gun at the sky. The events that follow cloud over the rest of the story, filling the Hamiltons’ lives with despair.
Devastating line: “To take someone’s life, that is something you can’t shake/Philip, your mother can’t take another heartbreak”
32. “The Election of 1800” (Disc 2, Track 19)
“Can we get back to politics?” Jefferson says. Hamilton loves pointing out that life interferes with politics as much as politics interferes with life, and there is so much tragedy from “Hurricane” to “It’s Quiet Uptown” that, when “The Election of 1800” interrupts the mourning with politics, it’s something of a relief.
This one details the 1800 presidential election, in which Jefferson faced off against Burr, with Jefferson’s alleged elitism leading to many preferring Burr. Needing a good endorsement, Jefferson got that in his political rival Hamilton. Today, it’s hard to imagine someone endorsing someone of a completely different political ideology due to distrusting the candidate of their own party, but Miranda does a solid job of getting the audience to understand why Hamilton would view Burr as a dangerous choice for president.
Devastating line: “I have never agreed with Jefferson once/ We have fought on like seventy-five diff’rent fronts/ But when all is said and all is done/Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none”
31. “Aaron Burr, Sir” (Disc 1, Track 2)
After the opening song gives us the backstory we need, “Aaron Burr, Sir” brings us to the true beginning of the story. Hamilton meets Burr, the man who will later kill him, and the two men’s differing ideologies give us a hint of what will eventually lead to their 1804 duel. At this point, all we know about these two men is factual details: Hamilton is a hero and scholar who wrote his way out of poverty and became an essential part of the creation of the United States, while Burr is “the damn fool that shot him.” Here, we see their actual personalities, with Hamilton’s overzealous nature and need to prove himself clashing with Burr’s more restrained personality.
Then we’re introduced to John Laurens (played by Anthony Ramos), Hercules Mulligan (played by Okieriete Onaodowan) and Marquis de Lafayette (played by Daveed Diggs) in the form of a Sugar Hill-esque rap, and we get a glimpse of how fun this show will be.
Devastating line: “You’re an orphan, of course! I’m an orphan/God, I wish there was a war!/Then we could prove that we’re worth more/Than anyone bargained for”
30. “Stay Alive (Reprise)” (Disc 2, Track 17)
Philip Hamilton dies following his duel with Eacker, his mother and father by his side. A part of the audience dies as well.
Devastating line: “I did exactly as you said, Pa/I held my head up high”
29. “Ten Duel Commandments” (Disc 1, Track 15)
The concept of dueling is introduced to the audience, via a homage to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments.” Laurens faces off against Charles Lee, who has been slandering Washington following the Battle of Monmouth. Of the pieces of dueling info, “Most disputes die, and no one shoots” seems most outlandish, considering the number of duels in Alexander Hamilton’s life that didn’t end peacefully.
Devastating line: “Leave a note for your next of kin/Tell ‘em where you been. Pray that hell or heaven lets you in”
28. “The Story of Tonight” (Disc 1, Track 4)
A drinking song from a group of revolutionaries, looking forward to going down in history. “Raise a glass to freedom/Something they can never take away,” Hamilton and his friends naively sing. The desire to prove oneself and build a legacy leads to destruction and sadness throughout Hamilton, but here, set to one of the most beautiful melodies in the show (apparently written by Miranda when he was 16), it’s not hard to see the appeal.
Devastating line: “I may not live to see our glory/But I will gladly join the fight”
27. “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” (Disc 1, Track 20)
Along with showing the end of the war, “Yorktown” gives Hamilton’s old revolutionary friends a goodbye (with the exception of Laurens, whose actual death is showed in the show, though not featured on the album). Laurens continues speaking out against slavery, Lafayette helps win the war before going back to France and Hercules Mulligan is revealed to have been an American spy. This ends the revolutionary section of Hamilton at just the right time, before it starts seeming repetitive.
Devastating line: “We gotta go, gotta get the job done/Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!”
26. “Hurricane” (Disc 2, Track 15)
In Hamilton: The Revolution, Miranda writes of “Hurricane,” “The challenge with this song is such a strange one: a moment alone with Hamilton, wherein he thinks about his whole life and then comes to the wrong conclusion about what to do.” “Hurricane” is successful at this, showing how the tragedy in Hamilton’s life would lead him to believe that every problem has the same solution. He made it over every other obstacle by writing his way out of them, so why should the Reynolds scandal be any different? It’s not hard to understand his thinking but, knowing what comes afterwards, it’s hard not to be infuriated at our protagonist’s problematic thought process. Luckily, Eliza gets to have her say on “Burn,” which is something of a sequel to “Hurricane.”
Devastating line: “I was twelve when my mother died/She was holding me/We were sick and she was holding me/I couldn’t seem to die”
25. “That Would Be Enough” (Disc 1, Track 17)
After being sent home by Washington, Alexander finds Eliza pregnant, and discovers that she wrote to Washington, asking that her husband be sent home. “That Would Be Enough” shows the husband and wife’s differing wants, contrasting Alexander’s desire to cement a legacy and achieve glory in the revolution with Eliza’s desire that her husband simply come home to his family at the end of the day. This struggle between the two is a major part of the story, and it’s never really resolved—their last interaction in the show is Eliza begging him to come back to sleep as he prepares for the duel that will define him. But here, it’s hard not to hope that Alexander sees Eliza’s way of thinking and stays with her.
Devastating line: “Oh, let me be a part of the narrative/In the story they will write someday/Let this moment be the first chapter/Where you decide to stay/And I could be enough”
24. “Take a Break” (Disc 2, Track 3)
If “Take a Break” has a flaw, it’s how heavily loaded it is. So much of Hamilton’s big plotting is sectioned off into different songs, with the more subtle character emotions and motivations lurking underneath. “Take a Break” has a lot of ground to cover, however. In one song, Miranda showcases Hamilton’s doubts and disillusionment with having to get his financial plan through congress, his continuing flirtatious relationship with Angelica (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry) and Eliza’s wanting her husband to take a break from his work and go upstate. Along with this, he introduces Ramos’ nine-year-old Philip in the form of an adorable rap (“I just turned nine/You can write rhymes but you can’t write mine”) and sets up Hamilton’s affair in “Say No to This.”
It’s a credit to the fabulous writing and performances that “Take a Break” works as well as it does.
Devastating line: “And there you are, an ocean away/Do you have to live an ocean away?/Thoughts of you subside/Then I get another letter/I cannot put the notion away”
23. “Stay Alive” (Disc 1, Track 14)
“Stay Alive” all but says aloud, “Where were we?” After the show takes a five-song break from the revolution to make us cry, we get back to the battlefield, catching up with everyone and meeting perhaps the one character Miranda doesn’t bother to humanize, General Charles Lee (“I’m a general, wheeeeeeeee!”). “Stay Alive” gets us back on track, all while being quotable and sonically exciting.
Devastating line: “Alexander, you’re the closest friend I’ve got”
22. “Cabinet Battle #2” (Disc 2, Track 7)
One criticism of Hamilton that I don’t get is that Miranda isn’t critical enough of the title character. Perhaps he’s not critical of him in the right ways (he doesn’t really confront, for example, Hamilton’s elitism), but he is nevertheless willing to point out flaws in Hamilton’s thoughts and actions.
“Cabinet Battle #2” is an instance of this, in which Alexander Hamilton’s worst traits are laid out on the table. In “Yorktown,” Lafayette says that after the war, he’s going back to France and hopes to “bring freedom to my people.” Hamilton replies, “We’ll be with you when you do.”
A little over a decade later, Hamilton and Jefferson debate whether the U.S. should help France, with Hamilton opposing entering the revolution. In a story about Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson will inevitably be a villain. But when he says, “You accumulate debt, you accumulate power/Yet in their hour of need, you forget,” it’s hard not to be on his side. Hamilton is kind of shitty sometimes.
Devastating line: “I know that Alexander Hamilton is here and he/Would rather not have this debate/I’ll remind you that he is not Secretary of State/He knows nothing of loyalty/Smells like new money, dresses like fake royalty/Desperate to rise above his station/Everything he does betrays the ideals of our nation”
21. “Washington on Your Side” (Disc 2, Track 8)
Democratic-Republicans Jefferson, Madison and Burr attempt to find dirt on Hamilton, which ultimately leads to them uncovering the Reynolds scandal. Like “Cabinet Battle #2,” “Washington on Your Side” is sympathetic towards Hamilton’s enemies, as they wonder why he’s lucky enough to be well-liked by the president. This serves as a reminder that, despite the claim in “Alexander Hamilton” that he “got a lot farther by working a lot harder/By being a lot smarter/By being a self-starter,” much of Hamilton’s success was due to luck and connections. As Hamilton’s enemies sing, “It must be nice to have Washington on your side,” their concerns seem pretty sensible.
Devastating line: “Let’s show these Federalists who they’re up against!/Southern motherfuckin’ Democratic-Republicans!”
20. “Non-Stop” (Disc 1, Track 23)
Similar to how “Alexander Hamilton” covers the first 16 years of Hamilton’s life and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” covers the 50 years after his death, “Non-Stop” closes Act One by covering the years in between the end of the revolution and Hamilton becoming Secretary of the Treasury. We also catch up with many of the characters, as Angelica sails to London with her husband, Washington becomes the first President of the United States and Eliza remains helpless, her husband’s ambitions coming before her at every turn.
As a long piece of exposition, “Non-Stop” is manic enough to get you excited for Act Two.
Devastating line: “And if your wife could share a fraction of your time/If I could grant you peace of mind/Would that be enough?”
19. “Right Hand Man” (Disc 1, Episode 8)
“Right Hand Man” serves major purposes on both musical and storytelling levels. Musically, it brings us to a more production-heavy form of hip-hop, with the heavy beat, strings and synths bringing to mind everything from ‘90s rap to later trap music. On a story level, it introduces General George Washington, and shows him making Hamilton his aide-de-camp. If it seems underwhelming, that’s only because it comes after such essentials as “My Shot,” “The Schuyler Sisters” and “You’ll Be Back.”
Devastating line: “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder”
18. “Cabinet Battle #1” (Disc 2, Track 2)
A debate between Hamilton and Jefferson about Hamilton’s financial plan, reimagined as a rap battle, “Cabinet Battle #1” is about as hip-hop as Hamilton gets, featuring bass heavy enough to shake your car as well as a reference to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message.” It also features lyrics that live up to its rap battle theme, showing both men as quick-witted and articulate, as well as opinionated.
Devastating line: “A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor/Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor/‘We plant seeds in the South. We create.’Yeah, keep ranting/We know who’s really doing the planting”
17. “What’d I Miss” (Disc 2, Track 1)
If Act One is all about Hamilton’s rise to power, Act Two is about him losing his political power and, ultimately, his life. The first ingredient in this fall from power is the arrival of Thomas Jefferson, which comes in the form of a jaunty, Tin Pan Alley-style tune. Daveed Diggs proves just as capable of killing it here as when he’s rapping as Lafayette. Meanwhile, there is a bit of an ominous tone as the company sings, “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home,” setting up a character as hateful and villainous as he is fun.
Devastating line: “There’s a letter on my desk from the President/Haven’t even put my bags down yet/Sally be a lamb, darlin’, won’tcha open it?”
16. “The World Was Wide Enough” (Disc 2, Track 22)
After 44 songs of teasing, we get to the duel, and it’s heartbreaking. We first get inside Burr’s head, as he examines the situation and comes to a conclusion: “This man will not make an orphan of my daughter.” Then, after Burr’s shot is fired, the music stops and we enter Hamilton’s head, the man’s thoughts moving faster than a bullet. “If I throw away my shot, is this how you remember me?” he thinks. He gives up his life, throwing away his shot as Burr refuses to wait for the first time and is immediately filled with regret.
“I survived but I paid for it,” Burr sings, “Now I’m the villain in your history.” Note the use of “your history,” as opposed to just “history.” Context shapes everything, and after a musical in which Burr is arguably the main narrator, it’s hard to view him as a mere villain in any context other than Hamilton’s own history.
Devastating line: “I was too young and blind to see/I should’ve known/I should’ve known/The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”
15. “One Last Time” (Disc 2, Track 9)
“One Last Time” is a wonderful example of how Hamilton mixes bitter and sweet, finding positivity in somber moments. After eight years, George Washington decides to step down as president, setting a precedent and shocking Hamilton. Yet, while his decision is sad, as goodbyes are wont to be, there’s an element of joy and satisfaction to it. Washington feels that he’s done enough, and sees his decision as being not only for his own benefit, but the benefit of his country and those that take over his position. Over a joyous tune, he sings, “If we get this right/We’re gonna teach ‘em how to say goodbye.” Hamilton claims, “They will say you’re weak,” and Washington responds, “No, they will see we’re strong.” Ultimately, Washington sees that saying goodbye is a necessity, an acknowledgment that the world will always move on and the bravest thing you can do is help make it easier. In the last year of the Obama presidency, as well as a time in which many of Hamilton’s original cast will likely move on to other things, this song rings all the more true.
Devastating line: “I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree/A moment alone in the shade/At home in this nation we’ve made/One last time”
14. “Guns and Ships” (Disc 1, Track 18)
While most reprises and expository songs rank low on this list, that doesn’t mean that I dislike them. It’s just that, compared to the more distinctive songs, they don’t really stand out. Except for this one, that is.
“Guns and Ships” is an example of how a song that, at the end of the day, mainly exists to move the story along can wind up being one of the most memorable numbers in the show. This is thanks to Diggs, whose LAFAYETTE! shows a massive improvement in his English skills, enough so that he manages the fastest rap in Broadway history. “Guns and Ships” primarily serves the purpose of getting Hamilton back on the battlefield after being sent home, but it shows that even minor songs can stand out.
Devastating line: “And I’m never gonna stop until I make ‘em/Drop and burn ‘em up and scatter their remains”
13. “Burn” (Disc 2, Track 15)
Phillipa Soo losing the Tony for Best Actress was disappointing, but not surprising (initially, anyway). Compared to many of the other performers, Soo is more underplayed, which is perfect for the character, but which also means she doesn’t stand out as much.
However, after hearing “Burn” again, her losing seems absurd. Here, she gives one of the most nuanced and emotional performances in the entire show. Following Hamilton releasing the Reynolds Pamphlet, Eliza gets her own song, in which she describes her utter contempt for her husband in the aftermath of his affair. “You and your words, obsessed with your legacy,” she sings, “Your sentences border on senseless/And you are paranoid in every paragraph/How they perceive you.” She then erases herself from the narrative, burning her letters so that history won’t have the chance to judge her reactions. This action shows more agency than Hamilton ever had, with Eliza determining how she’s remembered in a way he never could.
The mixture of sadness, anger and hatred on “Burn” makes it the most terrifying song in Hamilton, and Soo completely sells it.
Devastating line: “I hope you burn”
12. “Say No to This” (Disc 2, Track 4)
Using the style of a ‘90s slow jam to tell the story of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds (played by Jasmine Cephas Jones) may seem too obvious, but it’s used beautifully on “Say No to This,” which highlights the desperation of the affair. Hamilton’s inability to resist helpless women backs him into a corner when he meets Reynolds, a woman who’s been mistreated by her husband. The affair begins, and culminates in her husband James blackmailing him.
While Jones is too often left out of discussions about Hamilton, her seductive performance makes “Say No to This.” Despite Hamilton’s attempts to explain his reasons for having the affair, Jones does a better job conveying it through her voice than words ever could. I’m looking forward to the R&B album she’ll hopefully release one day.
Devastating line: “In my mind, I’m tryin’ to go/Then her mouth is on mine, and I don’t say no”
11. “Dear Theodosia” (Disc 1, Track 22)
Burr and Hamilton meet their children for the first time, singing about their desire to pass the world on to them. “When you smile, I fall apart/And I thought I was so smart,” Hamilton sings, and the two men join each other to sing, “My father wasn’t around/I swear that I’ll be around for you/I’ll do whatever it takes/I’ll make a million mistakes/I’ll make the world safe and sound for you.”
Putting “Dear Theodosia” outside of the top 10 feels weird, since I’m pretty sure few parenting songs top it. Miranda manages to combine several different thoughts parents have upon meeting their children, covering more ground than one song should be able to. And he apparently wrote it after he and his wife adopted a dog.
Devastating line: “You will come of age with our young nation/We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you/If we lay a strong enough foundation/We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/And you’ll blow us all away”
10. “The Room Where It Happens” (Disc 2, Track 5)
“Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room,” and we’re off. “The Room Where It Happens” tells the story of the compromise between Hamilton and Jefferson, in which “The immigrant emerges with unprecedented financial power/A system he can shape however he wants/The Virginians emerge with the nation’s capital.”
The utter strangeness of the story alone, heightened by the fact that nobody really knows how it happened, makes “The Room Where It Happens” a highlight, though the banjo, fantastic performance from Odom and numerous hooks (“Thomas claims!”) certainly help. Moreover, the song gives Burr his motivation for the remainder of the story: “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” The struggle between the values-driven Hamilton and the power-hungry Burr is what eventually leads to tragedy for both men.
Devastating line: “My God!/In God we trust/But we’ll never really know what got discussed/Click-boom then it happened”
9. “You’ll Be Back” (Disc 1, Track 7)
King George III may be the most pitiful character in Hamilton, an oppressor of the colonies who believes that the colonies are oppressing him. (Then again, we are forced to consider what makes him so different from the heroes of the story; “Slave owners who wanted to be free,” as George Carlin once called them.)
King George has only three songs in the production, all of which paint him as enormously pathetic, and each of which is worse than the last. But you can’t really blame Miranda, since he starts at such a high point with “You’ll Be Back.” A breakup song from the king to the colonies, “You’ll Be Back” is a clever British Invasion throwback that manages to find sympathy in George, even as he says things like, “I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
Devastating line: “You’ll be back like before/I will fight the fight and win the war/For your love, for your praise/And I’ll love you till my dying days”
8. “Helpless” (Disc 1, Track 10)
Showing Hamilton’s meeting of his future wife Eliza from her perspective, “Helpless” is a crush song (“I am so into you”), engagement song (“Two weeks later/In the living room stressin’/My father’s stone-faced/While you’re asking for his blessin’”) and marriage song (“I do I do I do I do!”) all rolled into one, and it’s joyful throughout. The upbeat tune—partially inspired by Beyoncé’s “Countdown” but also bringing to mind The Jackson 5—is responsible for the cheerful tone, but lyrics like, “My life gets better every letter that you write me” and “My love for you is never in doubt/We’ll get a little place in Harlem and we’ll figure it out” expand on it.
At the same time, there is bitter irony when you’re aware of what comes next. “Long as I’m alive, Eliza, swear to God/You’ll never feel so helpless” (in a Ja Rule voice, no less) is heartbreaking when you know that Eliza spends most of their marriage feeling helpless. At the same time, the song always brings happiness and hope for the couple, with or without the context of what’s to come (at least until “Satisfied” comes along and punches you in the gut).
Devastating line: “I’m tryin’ not to cry ‘cause there’s nothing that your mind can’t do”
7. “Alexander Hamilton” (Disc 1, Track 1)
“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
Hamilton opens with Aaron Burr—in many ways, the show’s main narrator—asking this question. The opening song of the show begins answering this question by telling of the first third of Hamilton’s life, detailing his father leaving, his mother’s death, the hurricane that devastated St. Croix and how Hamilton wrote his way out of his situation and made his way to America. In fact, “Alexander Hamilton” goes a long way towards explaining how Hamilton became a hero and a scholar. The more interesting question presented here is how “his enemies destroyed his rep, American forgot him,” which will also be explained later.
But along with introducing Hamilton’s story and drawing us in, the song also introduces Miranda’s skill in word and song. “Alexander Hamilton,” along with being one of the most memorable songs in the production, is also one of the easiest to memorize and find yourself singing. The goal of an opening song is to gain the audience’s interest. Mission accomplished.
Devastating line: “When he was ten his father split, full of it, debt-ridden/Two years later, see Alex and his mother bed-ridden/Half-dead sittin’ in their own sick, the scent thick/And Alex got better but his mother went quick”
Lin-Manuel Miranda performing “Alexander Hamilton” at the White House in 2009.
6. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” (Disc 2, Track 23)
Hamilton posits many questions, the most important one being: why do we remember who we remember? Why have names like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson always been instantly recognizable while Hamilton’s has resulted in head-scratching? The answer the show comes up with is that it’s not the person who defines how they’re remembered, but the storyteller. The most remarkable thing about this is that Hamilton’s success, both as a Broadway show and as a revival of Alexander Hamilton’s legacy, proves its own thesis.
So, rather than have Hamilton end the show, Miranda lets Eliza speak her peace: “I put myself back in the narrative/I stop wasting time on tears/I live another 50 years/It’s not enough.” Similar to how “It’s Quiet Uptown” shows Alexander seeing things from his wife’s perspective, his death gets Eliza seeing things his way, as she spends the remainder of her very long life ensuring that her husband’s legacy is secured (damn straight, “I know I don’t deserve you, Eliza”).
Eliza then begins talking about her own accomplishments, such as the Washington Monument, speaking out against slavery and establishing the first private orphanage in New York City. This is a reminder that, as upsetting as it is that someone like Alexander Hamilton was forgotten by the country he helped create, people like Eliza being forgotten may be even worse.
Devastating line: “Every other Founding Father’s story gets told/Every other Founding Father gets to grow old”
5. “The Schuyler Sisters” (Disc 1, Track 5)
At one point in the 60 Minutes segment on Hamilton, Charlie Rose says that women get equal time in the show, which made me laugh out loud. As with history, women make appearances in Hamilton, but to imply that they’re anywhere near equal is ridiculous (the show doesn’t even pass the Bechtel test). But nevertheless, Miranda knows that women’s contributions are generally left out of history, and if he can’t give them equal time, he’ll at least give them many of the best songs. “The Schuyler Sisters” introduces Angelica, Eliza AND PEGGY (the latter played by Jasmine Cephas Jones) Schuyler in the form of a ‘90s R&B song.
A musical about the Founding Fathers that features a song that would fit right in on a Destiny’s Child compilation? How lucky we are to be alive right now.
Devastating line: “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident/That all men are created equal’/And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel”
4. “My Shot” (Disc 1, Track 3)
Hamilton is too dense and story-driven to have a single breakout song. “The Schuyler Sisters,” for example, is an addictive tune on its own, but if someone loves that song, they’re probably inclined to explore the whole album. (I hope this is the explanation for The Singles Jukebox’s low rating for “My Shot.”)
But if Hamilton can be summed up with a single song, it’s probably “My Shot.” It took me a long time to realize why the song is so beloved. It’s great but, in such a strong song cycle, it felt somewhat minor.
Then I completely fell for it, and I realized that the reason it’s such a major standout is its pop structure. Everything, right down to the fantastic “Rise up” bridge, is meticulously calculated. Every line is written as if Hamilton himself had penned it—Miranda took a year to write the song because, “Every couplet needed to be the best couplet I ever wrote.”
Moreover, the song serves an indispensable purpose: other than little lines, like “There’s a million things I haven’t done” and “I wish there was a war,” we haven’t yet heard Hamilton state his motivations. “My Shot” gives Hamilton and his revolutionary friends six minutes to tell us what they’re thinking, feeling and desiring, and the year it took to write the song shows.
Devastating line: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory/When’s it gonna get me?/In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?/If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?”
The cast performs “My Shot” at the White House.
3. “It’s Quiet Uptown” (Disc 2, Track 18)
After hearing that his son had been shot, Alexander Hamilton reportedly collapsed. After Philip passed away, Robert Troup wrote, “Never did I see a man so completely overwhelmed with grief as Hamilton had been.” His appearance is even said to have changed, as seen in a portrait of him by Ezra Ames, which Ron Chernow writes “captured Hamilton looking troubled and introspective, as if lost in thought and staring into an abyss.”
Miranda keeps things somewhat impersonal on “It’s Quiet Uptown” because, having never lost a child, he couldn’t even attempt to know what it feels like. But the detached method of showing Hamilton’s grief works on another level, painting the feeling of losing a child as being as unknowable as Hamilton’s mind. The man felt as deeply as he thought.
This also functions the same way that horror often does. In horror films, it’s usually better to not see things, since our mind can project more horrific things than can be shown. Similarly, instead of trying to explain “the unimaginable,” Miranda instead invites the audience to place their own feelings into the situation. He even avoided annotating the song in Hamilton: The Revolution, the only song he did this for. It’s pointless for anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss to try to explain it.
But while he doesn’t try to explain the loss, he does a fantastic job of showing Hamilton after it, as he walks through the city, deep in thought, and begins attending church. For the first time, other people’s words seem to have more significance to Hamilton than his own. “You knock me out, I fall apart,” he sings, bringing heartbreaking context to Burr’s words from “Dear Theodosia.” He then wins Eliza back not with his own words, but hers from “That Would Be Enough”: “I don’t pretend to know/The challenges we’re facing/I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost.” In the end, she forgives him, if only so they can mourn together.
“Can you imagine?” the company sings. As perhaps the most devastating song on the entire album, “It’s Quiet Uptown” shows that, sometimes, a writer has to admit that they can’t comprehend what their characters are going through.
Devastating line: “I spend hours in the garden/I walk alone to the store/And it’s quiet uptown/I never liked the quiet before”
2. “Satisfied” (Disc 1, Track 11)
In the epilogue of Hamilton: The Revolution, it reads, “The most important affinity that Hamilton will carry into its future isn’t a specific message, though, political or otherwise: It’s an underlying belief in stories, and their power to change the world.” This is indeed true, and I’m grateful that Hamilton’s belief in stories is matched by Miranda’s expert ability at telling them, which is most visible in “Helpless” and “Satisfied.” With these two songs, differing perspectives are used to enhance the characters and their motivations, and also to show how the story is dependent on the storyteller, an idea that comes up multiple times in Hamilton.
“Satisfied” follows “Helpless,” a song that showed Eliza and Alexander’s meeting through the perspective of Eliza. “Satisfied” opens at their wedding, in which Eliza’s sister Angelica is making a toast. “May you always be satisfied,” she says. Then we rewind to the night of the ball, this time from Angelica’s perspective, as she opens with, “I remember that night, I just might regret that night for the rest of my days.” Suddenly, the event that we’d be swooning over in the previous song doesn’t seem so cut and dried. The happiest moment of one person’s life is filled with regret and sadness for another. “Nice going, Angelica, he was right/You will never be satisfied,” Angelica sings about her decision to give up her chance with Alexander for her sister’s sake.
But as tragic as this is, if Angelica had ended up with Alexander, would they have been any happier? Or would Eliza be the one singing “Satisfied” and Angelica “Burn?” That’s the nature of regret, the “Who knows?” that haunts you forever.
Devastating line: But when I fantasize at night/It’s Alexander’s eyes/As I romanticize what might/Have been if I hadn’t sized him/Up so quickly/At least my dear Eliza’s his wife/At least I keep his eyes in my life”
1. “Wait for It” (Disc 1, Track 13)
In “The World Was Wide Enough,” Burr sings, “History obliterates/In every picture it paints/It pains me and all my mistakes.” History is unforgiving. More forgiving, however, is historical fiction. That’s why, despite being “a villain in your history,” Aaron Burr can still be the protagonist in a novel by Gore Vidal. It’s why, in Hamilton, a story in which he should by all accounts be a villain, Burr is humanized more than he is in many history books.
Historical fiction molds historical stories to tell us about our world now. Hamilton does this often, right down the casting, which is meant to reflect modern day America. But among the more unfortunate things Hamilton has to tell us about ourselves is that, at the end of the day, many of us are closer to Burr than Hamilton. The quiet, the restrained, unwilling to chase our goals and falling behind because of it. The circumstances may be specific, but the overall emotion is completely relatable.
“If there’s a reason I’m still alive/When everyone who loves me has died/I’m willing to wait for it,” Burr sings. Like Hamilton, Burr’s life has been defined by tragedy. But the tragedy in Hamilton’s life opened doors for him, while the tragedy in Burr’s closed them off. Because of this, a song filled to the brim with envy and frustration manages to make us shift our sympathies towards a man we know will later kill the title character. This feat alone makes “Wait for It” the best song on the album, and the definitive example of Miranda’s storytelling abilities.
Devastating line: “My mother was a genius/My father commanded respect/When they died they left no instructions/Just a legacy to protect”