It’s been almost four years since “Hamilton” premiered on Broadway and the country is still obsessed with the play. At a White House event in 2016, Michelle Obama said it was “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.” It also won a Pulitzer Prize for drama and 11 Tony Awards.
What’s more, if anything, “Hamilton” makes U.S. history cool. It tells the story of the American Revolution and the founding fathers, but in a way that goes beyond textbooks or even interactive online courses.
It’s an inventive musical; the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, describes it as “America then, told by America now.” That may be one of the reasons it uses rap and hip hop to tell the story of young America—it’s really resonating with younger generations and getting them interested in history.
Even those who haven’t seen it yet jam along to the soundtrack. With 46 songs featured in the play—or nearly two and a half hours of melodies—listening to the entire soundtrack can take some commitment. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite songs. Trust me, these are so good, you’ll want to add them all to your favorite playlist.
This song opens the entire show and introduces the titular character—Alexander Hamilton—as well as many of the other main players like Aaron Burr and George Washington. It also provides the relevant history of Hamilton’s childhood and brings us up to speed on the events about to unfold. The song is epic and sets the tone for the rest of the show (and soundtrack).
Best lyrics: My name is Alexander Hamilton / And there's a million thing I haven't done /
But just you wait
“My Shot” gives us a clue into exactly what Alexander Hamilton is fighting for—a shot to prove himself. This song to Lin-Manuel Miranda a year to write, so it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular from the soundtrack.
Best lyrics: Hey yo, I’m just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot
The Schuyler Sisters
The fifth song of the musical introduces the characters Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy Schuyler. These women play a crucial role in the show and this song—which has the melody and feel of a ‘90s R&B song—brings some energetic girl power to the soundtrack.
Best lyrics: You want a revolution? I want a revelation / So listen to my declaration: / "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!
Right Hand Man
This is a definite pump-up song if there ever was one. Right Hand Man introduces George Washington, and pushes Hamilton into the larger spotlight as he continues to chase his “shot” (as Washington’s right-hand man. If you really listen to the song, you’ll see that it shares a message of adjusting to opportunities and seizing moments. Pair that with a heavy bass and motivating beat, and you have the perfect tune to start your day with or hit the gym to.
Best lyrics: It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger / I was just like you when I was younger
With “Helpless,” there is so much storytelling in such a short amount of time. and it’s brilliant. It teaches us about Hamilton’s courtship and marriage to his wife Eliza, from her perspective. It’s an upbeat love song that also gives us some slight insight into classes in America during the time of the revolution.
Best lyrics: Look into your eyes (Oh, look at those eyes) / And the sky's the limit / I'm helpless
Wait for It
In this song, Aaron Burr wrestles with questions of life, death, and love. In the show, Burr plays the villain, but this song humanizes him in a way many history books do not. He’s the polar opposite of Hamilton’s character and this song ends up being the perfect antithesis to “My Shot.” It’s a beautiful, emotional ballad that slows things down in a powerful way.
Best lyrics: My mother was a genius / My father commanded respect / When they died they left no instructions / Just a legacy to protect
Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
“Yorktown” is one of the most epic songs on the soundtrack. It chronicles the last major battle of the Revolutionary War—the Battle of Yorktown—and sets the scene for the largest moment of triumph for our heroes. The song has a great beat, fun lyrics, and tons of energy.
Best lyrics: We gotta go, gotta get the job done / Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!
This song has such a fun, infectious beat and always gets stuck in my head every time I hear it. As far as the play goes, this song is key in plot development; it narrates the story of Hamilton's life from the end of the Revolutionary War to his promotion to Secretary of the Treasury.
Best lyrics: Burr, we studied and we fought and we killed / For the notion of a nation we now get to build / For once in your life, take a stand with pride
The Room Where It Happens
This song tells the story of the Compromise of 1790 from Aaron Burr’s point of view. As we know, this compromise was made behind closed doors, solely between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, so the fact that we get it from Burr’s perspective more so gives us a glimpse of his motivation (“I wanna be in the room where it happens). Its beat is super catchy and energetic…and it includes a banjo!
Best lyrics: In God we trust / But we'll never really know what got discussed / Click-boom then it happened / And no one else was in the room where it happened
It’s Quiet Uptown
In this song, Alexander and Eliza Hamilton are grieving after death of their son. The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, having never lost a child, reflects on the changes this event made in Hamilton’s life instead of trying to explain what that grief feels like. The song is beautiful, devastating, and powerful. The cast even cried and production team even cried while hearing it, and it’ll probably move you too.
Best lyrics: I spend hours in the garden / I walk alone to the store / And it’s quiet uptown / I never liked the quiet before
What’s your favorite “Hamilton” song? Comment below and let us know!
Don’t forget to sign up to be notified when U.S. History Abroad registration opens; there are courses on the American Revolution for students from kindergarten up to eighth grade!
Copyright 2019, U.S. History Abroad, LLC