The Hamilton obsession continues! For my birthday on Monday, I'm giving myself an opportunity to really dig into the songs themselves.
So let's break it down song by song. Also, the depression to not being able to see it live, especially with the original cast, is real. But thanks Lin for putting everything on the album! According to this article, the biggest thing listeners of the album miss from the real thing is Jonathan Groff's perfection and a single spoken scene on the death Laurens. And thanks Youtube for a nice overview of what we who aren't rich and in New York are missing. Here are a couple to give you a taste of the show.
So here it is, every song and my thoughts. To sum up: Perfect, love it, life-changing, etc. There are a lot of songs. I've also been listening to it on Shuffle for a few weeks now so it's a nice reminder as to the order and the plot of it all. Finally, I'm reading Chernow's biography that inspired the musical. Not only will it be my next Hamilton-themed post, but it also is a nice companion to the soundtrack. Awesome, wow!
For this post, I'm using Genius for exact lyrics and also additional notes about the production. The people at Genius have done an incredible job of researching the lyrics. They even reference specific Twitter updates. Very impressive.
- Alexander Hamilton. It's striking how much of this song is present six years ago, at the White House. It does a nice job of setting up Hamilton's backstory and getting him to New York quickly. It also introduces us to the important characters who fought with him, died for him, trusted him, loved him.
- Aaron Burr, Sir. And now we really get to know Burr. We first hear his 'Talk Less, Smile More' refrain for the first time and get to meet the dudes - Mulligan, Laurens, and Lafayette. It's also a nice segue from the big opening number to the actual plot of the thing, firmly putting us in 1776 and the beginning of Hamilton's college career. Also, on Genius, Miranda mentions how this song demonstrates the difference between Hamilton and the others - while the raps of Mulligan, Laurens, and Lafayette are very simple, Hamilton shows his verbal dexterity and impressive skills. It's mostly an introduction to Burr, as he demonstrates repeatedly in the song his desire to hang back and 'wait for it,' which is against everything that has gotten Hamilton to where he is.
- My Shot. On Genius, Miranda mentions that he took a year to write this song, because this is the song that really illustrates Hamilton's intelligence and just how far above his contemporaries he is. It also does a good job of setting the need for the revolution and literally has Hamilton insert himself into it. This song also introduces several common refrains - rising up, taking your shot. Hamilton's obsession with death. Also, poor lonely Hamilton - he finally has friends and he's going to make them proud! It also introduces the nation of states or a state of nations, which is the big debate right now where I'm at in Chernow's novel...
- The Story of Tonight. A short song, a break from the energy of My Shot, to remind the audience that these guys are young and naive and just want to die for glory. It also mentions that 'tomorrow there will be more of us' as they are at the beginning of a true revolution.
- The Schuyler Sisters. I always picture the three King George IIIs, thanks to this Ham4Ham. Also, several critics compared the sisters to Destiny's Child and this is spot on. Finally, hey, Lean In ladies - Jefferson's including women in the sequel! This New York love stuff is a bit much but we'll take it. This song also introduces Eliza's theme of 'lucky to be alive right now' and how summertime in the city can lead to bad choices.
- Farmer Refuted. I have no opinions on this song except for an appreciation of "Oh is he in Jersey" and "my dog speaks more eloquently." The opposition between the cool guys and the stuffy British dude is a nice lead in to King George's introduction. It's also another example of Hamilton walking all over a competitor with his words, and, once again, Burr admonishes Hamilton, trying to get him to STFU, but he refuses to 'drop the niceties.'
- You'll Be Back. Never enough Groff. The juxtaposition with his musical styling and that of the revolution is dramatic but I love that his response to the revolution is basically a break up letter with the colonies. And anyone who is going to kill your friends and family to remind you of his love is someone to listen to. The song also serves as a nice reminder that freedom and winning the war wasn't a foregone conclusion. George, and probably a lot of others, didn't think the Americans would win.
- Right Hand Man. Again, Hamilton talks about how war is his only way to move up and how he's willing to die for glory. George Washington is introduced with flourish by Burr, as the only one who can lead the country and also give these ruffians their chance. We also get to see Hamilton steal some British cannons (this really happened, it's in Chernow's book!) and Washington sinks into rap as he explains how fucked the revolutionaries currently are. We also get a hint at Washington's history as Hamilton reminds him of his own dreams of martyrdom - but living is harder. Hamilton takes his chance to rise up through Washington, quickly jumping in the fray, bringing his friends with him. And Burr, already questioning Washington's choices, is asked to leave the room, for the first, but not the last, time. The song ends with a hint at the relationship that will develop between Washington and Hamilton.
- A Winter's Ball. It's impressive how many times Aaron Burr reminds us that Hamilton is a bastard orphan. He also offers some exposition - Hamilton is writing for Washington but would still prefer to fight. But it's nice to see the guys having fun together. Soak it up in the first act because it's all downhill on the second disc... Also, I like the 'It's true' moment at the tomcat reference, like Miranda just wants to appreciate all the history he dug up for this for a second.
- Helpless. Miranda has commented that this song and Satisfied are microcosms on the entire play. Who tells your story? In Helpless and Satisfied, we have Eliza and Angelica's perspectives on meeting Hamilton. Eliza falls in love instantly. Also, Eliza is such a lady. She doesn't participate in the 'hey' flirting at the beginning. And apparently Angelica really did ask Eliza to share him... Side note - Mulligan plays the flower girl in the show! Aw. Also Phillipa Soo does a great job of making Eliza sweet but not sickeningly so.
- Satisfied. And now from Angelica's perspective! To be honest, the first time I listened to this was in the car and I had no idea what the hell was going on. I get it now, promise! But she is the first person to really be at Hamilton's level - she assesses him quickly and raps faster than him! On Genius, Miranda admits that she was already married and had several brothers, but sticks to her three reasons here for dramatic effect. And she offers the first of many very serious important countdowns in the show... Angelica and Hamilton's relationship is real to a certain extent - Chernow mentions several letters demonstrating a strong bond between the two. And neither is ever satisfied. She marries a sad short English man while Hamilton marries someone who never matches him intellectually. After the sweetness of Helpless, this is sad as we watch Angelica martyr herself for her sister. Here we both see the familial side, as Hamilton reiterates how his family and background doesn't matter. Ultimately, Angelica chooses her sister's happiness over her own (foreshadowing - Hamilton is not as generous with Eliza's feelings).
- The Story of Tonight. Before Burr shows up, this is just a fun song, before they all go out and get shot and lose their little foursome. The allusions to marriage and Hamilton's loss of freedom are funny and youthful. And now Hamilton is rich! Then Burr shows up, party pooper extraordinaire. Here, he reminds Hamilton how unsatisfied he is with his new post while Burr wishes he had the relationship with Washington that Hamilton does. Then there are moments of true affection between the two men, as Hamilton seems genuinely pleased that Burr attends his wedding and seems to wish him well with his Theodosia. Though again, while Hamilton admonishes Burr for not going all out with this lady, Burr shows his usual restraint. It's also nice to see another side of Burr, the romantic side. The show is as much his as it is Hamilton's.
- Wait For It. Apparently Miranda considers this one of the best songs he's ever written. And it does a great job of providing the audience with Burr's perspective. Even outside of the context of the musical - love doesn't discriminate, it takes and it takes - this is a great song. And then the legacy that he needs to protect, all those people that sacrificed for him and he's willing to wait to make their sacrifice worth it. Hamilton and Burr, both orphans, still come from completely different points of view. While Hamilton is facing an uphill battle, Burr just has stuff to lose. And he isn't just hanging out in the background, he's actively waiting for his opportunity. That's a thing, right? It also speaks to me from a personal perspective - there are people rushing ahead, whether it's getting married and popping out kids right after college or those people who are already tagging on 'senior' and 'manager' to their job titles by my age. Again, a great job of giving Burr something to do and making him a real character other than just making him the bad guy who kills our hero.
- Stay Alive. According to Genius, this song is out of time with the rest of the show, as the Battle of Monmouth took place several years before Eliza and Alexander's wedding. Oh well, it works. Also, the Battle of Monmouth is a great piece in the Chernow book. Anyway, back to the song. As in the book, this song demonstrates how screwed the continental army really was, with lack of funds and food. And how unsure of success Washington was. Quickly, we get an overview of several of the Continental Army's slapdash attacks against the British. Of course, this could also be called the 'I'm a General, Whee' and 'chik-a-plao' song. It gives us a nice summary of what all the dudes are up to. There's also an intimate moment between Laurens and Hamilton, the maybe-lovers, where Hamilton passes on 'his shot' advice to Laurens before the duel.
- Ten Duel Commandments. This is a fun introduction to what becomes serious and sad later in the show. It also introduces the count to nine, repeated later by Eliza, Phillip, and, tragically, Burr. Most importantly though, it provides the audience an overview of the rules of dueling, a somewhat legit practice of the time. I also like the exchange between Burr and Hamilton when they attempt peace (Burr wants to avoid the duel, Hamilton is angry at Lee's words and ineptitude at the Battle of Monmouth). Rhyming 'ruinous' with 'doin' this' is just the best.
- Meet Me Inside. This is all about the relationship between Washington and Hamilton. Not having seen the actual musical, the book really helped here. In Chernow's biography, Hamilton becomes frustrated with his lack of activity in the war and basically leaves Washington on his own accord, heading back to Albany. My favorite line of the song is "John should have shot him in the mouth; that would've shut him up." Hamilton's attitude and his anger at being called son, perhaps a slight reference to the rumors about Hamilton being Washington's illegitimate son, are great and come through well in the song. And again, Hamilton is worried about his legacy, what's going to happen to him after the war, as he doesn't have the name that Washington does.
- That Would Be Enough. This is one of those songs I always skip when it comes up... But Hamilton is pissed he's back from the war, worried that he won't be able to care for Eliza without glory through battle. She just wants him to be around for their kid, she doesn't care about the legacy that he does. It's not my favorite but Eliza continues to be an actual angel.
- Guns and Ships. Back to war! Hamilton's sabbatical did not last long. According to Genius, this might be the fastest song in musical history. Well done, guys!
- History Has Its Eyes On You. Washington basically started the French and Indian War - oops! This is a nice build on the relationship between Washington and Hamilton, as Washington sees himself in the younger man. And we get the first introduction of 'who lives, who dies, who tells your story.'
- Yorktown. The line 'Immigrants, we get the job done' apparently gets such a reaction from the audience that they've had to add bars. Take that, xenophobic Republicans! Hamilton grows up a bit in the song, finally wanting to live for his son and see the nation grow rather than die in glory. That's nice.
- What Comes Next? More King George III and Groff! Awesome, wow! This is a great comedic moment - ha, ha, leading sucks and is hard, good luck fuckers! It's also a nice reminder that America is a young upstart and it's future success is not assured. Winning is easy, governing is harder.
- Dear Theodosia. There's something in my eye. A post on Tumblr actually pointed this out - Hamilton sucks at rhyming when he's emotional. His words fail him. In this song, he rhymes son with sun and repeats himself over and over again. Words fail him with his first son. The song itself is lovely. They'll grow up with our great nation - for them, America is always a foregone conclusion.
- Non-Stop. We've made it to the end of Act 1! Now let's feel terrible about how little we've accomplished in our lives. Hamilton and Burr start practicing law, with Hamilton 'practically perfecting it.' Again, Burr is hesitant to support the Constitution, which Hamilton doesn't understand - what was the war for? The song also covers the Constitutional Convention (I've just finished this bit in Chernow - Hamilton's six hour speech included government with a monarchy...) and the writing of the Federalist papers. The man is non stop! We also get a nice wrap up of everyone from Act 1 as Angelica heads off to London, Eliza asks for her husband's time and picks up Angelica's refrain - isn't this enough Hamilton? And Hamilton gets that status he was always looking for, named Treasure Secretary of the new nation. Even now that the war is over, he's still as ambitious as ever.
Intermission! Go get a drink.
- What'd I Miss. I'll leave the actual link to Genius for this song. Miranda talks about the staging - introducing Jefferson while slaves are at work in the background - and how it corroborates with the lyrics. Also, Jefferson's look, damn. This is a nice introduction for the second act - Burr reminds us again that Hamilton is an orphan, but also hints at the political drama that's about to come. And our first partisan system! Thanks for ruining it for the rest of us, Jefferson and Hamilton. Finally, according to the notes at Genius, the Sally referenced in the song is his rumored mistress. But it sure is a fun song and great character introduction!
- Cabinet Battle #1. Shit gets real. When Aaron Sorkin saw the show, someone asked Miranda on Twitter if Sorkin knew that he (Miranda) was a West Wing fan. Miranda's response: Well, he saw the show. This might be the most West Wingian of them as Hamilton and Jefferson throw barbs back and forth, about our financial system of all things. Rapping instead of walking and talking. Also, "They don't have a plan, they just hate mine," is basically the Republican platform today.
- Take a Break. This starts with Eliza and Phillip counting to nine in French, echoing the intro to Ten Duel Commandments. There's a nice father-son moment between Hamilton and Phillip. But then he writes love letters to Angelica in the middle of it... But hey, melodrama over punctuation is always fun! And it's always nice to throw shade at the Vice President. One more bit of adorableness: Eliza beat boxes for Phillip's rap/poem.
- Say No To This. A nice dramatic song about adultery and our first political scandal as a country! Uh oh, it's summer in the city. The seduction is quick and just like that, there goes Hamilton's candidacy. Also, all the Helpless references just make us feel preemptively bad for Eliza. The reference at the end to Last Five Years is nice and I really like how the chorus voicesHamilton's conscience and the audience's hopes. Fucker doesn't listen though.
- The Room Where It Happens. Another song that Miranda says is his best. And yeah, it's pretty fucking awesome. It starts with some friendliness between Burr and Hamilton, then Hamilton makes fun of Burr... Leslie Odom Jr. is incredible in this one, the passion and emotion raw and evident. But also demonstrating Burr's flaws - while Hamilton is willing to be loved or hated to be remembered, to get what he wants, Burr is still waiting. And while Hamilton has desires and plans, Burr just wants to be in the room to make the decisions, whatever they are. The song is also a nice reminder that democracy or not, we don't really know how the hell some shit gets decided and, as we watch the complacent Virginians and the immigrant sell it all away, we feel for Burr again.
- Schuyler Defeated. And Burr mans up for something! But it's to go against Hamilton... Again, Burr doesn't have any ideas, he just wants to win. And another line representing our Republicans: They don't need to know me. They don't like you.
- Cabinet Battle #2. Another cabinet battle! This one about whether or not we should support France in their revolution, despite Hamilton promising Lafayette he would do just that... Madison has his best line here ('France') and is a marked departure from Hercules Mulligan, his double from the first act. Hamilton speaking for King Louis's head is a highlight. While the first cabinet battle was more about Jefferson being awesome, this time they really get into the details and there isn't a clear person we're supposed to be rooting for as both Jefferson and Hamilton make good points. And then daddy calls... While Washington's description of people rioting versus people leading is on point, is there any real reason he picked Hamilton other than he's Hamilton? Which brings us to...
- Washington On Your Side. Burr encourages the rancor between Hamilton and Jefferson and Madison as Jefferson begins to list all the shit Hamilton has caused, least of which is fracturing the cabinet (and leading us to the Democrats and Republicans, thanks Alexander). It also provides a believable escalation to Jefferson's resigning and opposition to Washington. Southern motherfuckin' democratic republicans!
- One Last Time. Hamilton and Jefferson are basically little kids under Washington here... But Washington is more mature and has more wisdom than Hamilton, understanding that a monarchy is too fickle. He needs to teach America to say goodbye while he still can. Also, the combination of the the actual text is nice, reminding us of the weight of what we're witnessing.
- I Know Him. Goodbye King George III and Groff. You will be missed. That being said, I love how he realizes in this song that retiring is possible. That stepping down is an option. He seems to go a little crazy in the end - I hope he enjoyed watching the shit show.
- The Adams Administration. And we have our second president! America's first exchange of power. And it turns out Hamilton really needed Washington's guidance. As evidenced by 'Sit down John, you fat mother fuckstick.'
- We Know. My favorite part of this song is how inept Madison, Jefferson, and Burr are ('um, yeah?). Burr's finally in the room where it happens and he doesn't know what the hell to do. Also, Hamilton gets really pissed and his rant against them is great. But he can't trust them not to keep this a secret, so...
- Hurricane. Genius describes the staging of this song, which sounds awesome. I think this song does a great job of explaining how Hamilton gets to the place where he fucks over himself and his family to protect his legacy. The emotion is there and evident and clear. And the 'I wrote my own deliverance' is a great line and a summary of the power writing has in Hamilton's life. Towards the end, the familiar 'wait for it' and 'history has its eyes on you' show up. Yes, Hamilton probably should have waited this time... Also, first sex scandal in American history. Awesome! Wow!
- The Reynolds Pamphlet. Also great. The pictures I've seen of this being performed... Everyone is having so much fun at this guy's expense. No one else could take him down, so he does it for them. Also, 'he's never gonna be president now' is a great refrain that I hope we can eventually sing towards the majority of the current presidential candidates. And I love 'one less thing to worry about.' Jefferson was worried about Hamilton's candidacy before - not anymore! Apparently the actual Reynolds Pamphlet was 95 pages. Dude, this was probably a time for brevity. And to Angelica's point - hopefully he's satisfied. At least he didn't screw with America's money?
- Burn. My favorite part of this song is the drawn out 'You.' What a selfish bastard. I just want to give Eliza a hug for a good portion of this show and Soo's voice is incredible. I love her description of his writing, how he built her palaces out of paragraphs. Again, that boy could write.
- Blow Us All Away. Well, Eliza's husband just screwed them over, now let's kill her son! And the song starts off so upbeat! Also, what kind of dad tells his son to go in a duel? Hamilton is only concerned about his son's honor. What about the other guy? What about his honor? But the Jersey shade is always nice.
- Stay Alive. And we're done with the upbeat fun songs... So this is incredibly sad. He tried to do the right thing and aim for the sky! He was just defending his dad! And tying his death with the counting in French with his mother... so bittersweet.
- It's Quiet Uptown. Excuse me while I cry. This also does a great job of bringing back Hamilton and Eliza, to understand how she supports him in the very end. How they come back together to mourn over their son. He starts the song alone, but then Eliza joins him. Again, he flirts with death as he offers to change his life for his son's. And as in Dear Theodosia, Alexander's words fail him. Suddenly it's unimaginable and too terrible to name. His top notch brain can't get him through this.
- The Election of 1800. I love how they express the feelings of everyone in the audience when they start the song with a request to get back to politics. Yes, no more death and sadness please! And even Jefferson, after the loss of Phillip, is a little nicer to Hamilton (poor Hamilton, he's missing in action). And now Hamilton has replaced Washington - wouldn't it be nice to have Hamilton on your side? And again, there's Burr, no stands, just trying to get in the door. And, sadly, too similarly to our current election process, people like him because of that. You could get a beer with him! Even the chorus admits - it's lose lose with these two. And for the first time, Hamilton is hesitant - his first request from the crowd to give an opinion is met with 'it's quiet uptown.' And for the last time, Hamilton tips the scale against Burr, making Jefferson president.
- Your Obedient Servant. We open with the reference to the orphan bastard again, but this time Burr's pretty pissed. Also, according to Genius, Hamilton and Burr really did sign their letters that way... The song is almost comical (Itemized list of disagreements/Sweet Jesus). We get one more moment of brevity before the rug is pulled out from under us (again).
- Best of Wives and Best of Women. The relationship between Eliza and Hamilton is so important to the story and it's nice to have this quiet, honest moment between the two of them, with Hamilton understanding that it might be the last time they are together. Apparently Hamilton really did refer to her as the best of wives and best of women in his last letter to her. Crying again, dammit.
- The World Was Wide Enough. And here's the climax of pretty much the whole shebang! It's jarring how much this sounds like Ten Duel Commandments, which is fun and light and everyone is young and immortal. There's the goodbye from Hamilton - his last shot, his last fight. And he knows. He lists all of the people he's outlived and then he gets to Eliza and tells her to take his time, that he will be waiting on the other side. Hamilton thanks America for letting him leave his mark, for letting even orphan immigrants make a difference. And then I start crying, even when I'm in my car or cleaning my apartment or packing. Then the fucker Burr kills him. And Burr realizes his error - death doesn't discriminate - and knows that that's all he is now, the fucker who killed Hamilton. Throughout their story, Hamilton has reached for the sky and Burr has waited. Until this one bad time that he did not wait... At least Miranda made him a sympathetic dude? Also, apparently Miranda's neighbor at one point was one of Burr's descendants and influenced how he wrote Burr. Well, hell.
- Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. Everyone gets together to revisit Hamilton's legacy. Even his foes, Jefferson and Madison! Eliza explains that she got what Hamilton didn't - time. Her legacy - the Washington monument, the orphanage. And telling Hamilton's story.
And that's that. Happy birthday to me, wallowing in Hamilton for a few hours to put this together. An incredible story, musical, play, album, whatever. I'm just glad it's here.