Tonight, the Tony Awards take place. Millions of Broadway enthusiasts and bemused families with no Broadway knowledge will watch the ceremony, and both groups will fully expect a huge night for Hamilton. And why wouldn’t they? It’s the biggest hit Broadway has had in decades. It’s surprising blend of history and contemporary hip-hop has managed to strike a chord with audiences everywhere. This is also, in large part, due to the soundtrack selling as well as it has, a platinum album at this point in time. The album is as much a success for it’s incredible instrumentation and vocal performances as it is because you won’t be able to get a ticket for 2,000 years.
That soundtrack, while a fantastic and varied array of songs detailing the life of a founding father, is also 46 songs and nearly three hours long. You may have heard the title track or My Shot, but the whole double album is a daunting task to take on. Here are ten of the absolute best songs from the musical. These songs move stories along, bond characters together, and drive them apart. They’re also ridiculously catchy and you’ll hate how long they’re stuck in your head for, even if you love the song. Here are ten songs for those looking to dip their toes into Hamilton waters, or ten ranked Hamilton songs that the play’s obsessives can nitpick.
10. One Last Time
George Washington was Alexander Hamilton’s mentor, guiding Hamilton as a young man and eventually adding him to his Presidential staff. The musical portrays their relationship as a father-son bond, with Hamilton seeking approval and respect from Washington, who was more of a father to him than his real absentee father. In “One Last Time,” Washington breaks the news to Hamilton that he’s stepping down as President. Christopher Jackson’s silky smooth voice shines as Washington, explaining his reasoning to Hamilton, who begrudgingly accepts and writes Washington’s statement. In a musical filled with rapping, this song is a beautifully sung break from it.
9. Guns and Ships
Speaking of rapping. Reprising the beat from the opening song, Burr’s narration makes way to blistering rhymes from Daveed Diggs in his show-stopping performance as Marquis de Lafayette, America’s favorite fighting Frenchman. The song explains a key moment in American history, where Lafayette gets weaponry and defense from France. It’s a turning point in the Revolutionary War that led to a win. Lafayette reminds Washington that he needs Hamilton back for this final battle, and Washington urges Hamilton to rejoin the fight. Probably the best song to ever be written about American history that also has really fast rapping in a French accent.
8. Dear Theodosia
Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton are constantly compared throughout Hamilton. Usually these comparisons put them at odds with one another, but Dear Theodosia comes in the wake of a victory for America, as well as the wake of Burr and Hamilton’s children being born. The intensity of the war music fades. Dulcet piano notes blend with impeccable string arrangements, creating a sound that perfectly encapsulates the heartwarming optimism of the lyrics as Burr and Hamilton sing to their respective children about the chance to grow up in a brand new nation, each promising “I swear that I’ll be around for you.”
7. The Schuyler Sisters
The introduction to a rather important family in the musical, The Schuyler Sisters combines the sounds of 70s soul and 80s rap. The song celebrates the American Revolution and New York City as it introduces us to a trio of siblings. We meet Angelica, the eldest Schuyler who’s looking for a mind at work that can compete with her own. There’s Eliza, Alexander’s future wife who recognizes the enormity of the time period with a refrain that repeats through out the play, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” These are the women in Hamilton’s life. The ladies who loved him. And Peggy.
6. Wait For It
Alexander Hamilton was impulsive, opinionated, and confident. He was a man who felt what he believed and let you know. Aaron Burr was not any of that, as the title of his solo song suggests. Leslie Odom Jr. gives an absolute star performance as Burr, turning him into a deeply complex character waiting for his chance to shine while he watches Hamilton thrive by creating his opportunities. Confident in his decision but envious of Hamilton, it’s a sublimely layered performance by Odom.
5. Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
The Battle of Yorktown. 1781. Hamilton finally has his chance to shine in the war, in the battle that would prove victorious for America. Strings, drums, and record scratches all somehow come together to create a war song, as Hamilton and his friends – John Laurens, Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan – become legends in the story of a country becoming free. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyricism is at it’s best here, as Hamilton realizes that with a son on the way, the heroic death in battle he’s imagined is no longer an option.
4. Say No To This
Look, no one’s perfect. This soulful, dramatic track from the second act finds Hamilton at his lowest, giving in to an affair with Maria Reynolds and ultimately getting blackmailed for money by her husband. The racing music and tense back-and-forth between Hamilton and Maria feels incredibly real, and ends in an unbelievable note from Jasmine Cephas Jones. Even after the blackmail, Hamilton can’t resist the affair, while the chorus yells “NO!” in vain.
How good is Renee Elise Goldsberry in this song? Miranda told The Hollywood Reporter that there are parts of it that even he can’t rap, and he wrote the song. Goldsberry shines as Angelica Schuyler falling for Hamilton as he gets married to her sister Eliza. Angelica finally finds the mind at work she was looking for in The Schuyler Sisters, and she lets it get away. An excellent song for anyone in love with someone they cannot be with, especially if that person is the United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Hamilton and Burr are so similar, yet so different. Brilliant men and excellent lawyers, their personalities are polar opposites. Impulsive Hamilton and “Wait For It” Burr cross paths frequently in the years right after the war, and in Non-Stop we see both sides of their strange friendship. Burr will never understand how Hamilton can jump right into something that could fail, while Hamilton will never understand Burr’s need to wait before deciding his next move. This comes to a head when Burr declines to take part in The Federalist Papers. The song ends the first act with everything in flux. Angelica is in London, Hamilton accepts the Secretary of the Treasury, and Burr eternally remains stunned at how much Hamilton can write.
1. The Room Where It Happens
There’s a reason both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. are nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Musical at the Tonys. Burr is almost as much a protagonist of Hamilton’s story as Hamilton is, and this song is his turning point. Hip-hop, big band, jazz, and even banjo music come together as Burr describes how the Compromise of 1790 came together. But Burr notes that everything we know about this moment in history is hearsay – “no one else was in the room where it happened.” Burr has once again seen Hamilton get what he wants, and after Hamilton again asks Burr “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what do you fall for?” We finally learn what Burr wants. It’s not to take a stand like Hamilton wants. It’s simply to be in the room where it happens. Odom nails Burr’s range of emotions throughout the song, and the music is never better or more interesting in the whole play.