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A Primer for Hamilton: The 15 Best Songs It Has to Offer (Part 2)

Hamilton Musical

This is part 2 of the exclusive feature written by contributing writer Jacob Marrocco.

Warning: This article does contain spoilers.

7.) “Say No To This”

What happens in the song: Alexander Hamilton engages in a lengthy affair with Maria Reynolds as her husband, James, blackmails Hamilton into paying him a fee to keep it quiet.

So remember how Miranda said Hamilton had an issue with not aiding helpless women? This is where it comes back to bite him. Maria Reynolds was looking for a small loan and accompaniment back to her home, but it turns into much more than that. She seduces Hamilton and he finds himself unable to resist, even as the company tells him to “say no to this.” The tune is unlike any other in the musical and it was named by the New York Times (NYT) as one of the 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going.

“It also does the remixing of musical styles and emotional tones that is part of the show’s overall artistic achievement,” NYT’s Wesley Morris wrote. “But instead of political brilliance and straight-up swagger, the subject is sex. Not only is this song funny, it’s also kind of hot.”

Yeah, Miranda was certainly generous with Hamilton’s and Maria’s moaning, that’s for sure. Hamilton can’t say no to this, even if the story is false and is purely devised by James to lure him in. Come one, come all, to witness the demise of Hamilton. It starts here.

6.) “Your Obedient Servant”

What happens in the song: Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel.

Burr has reached his breaking point. Hamilton calls him “amoral, a dangerous disgrace,” and also sides with Jefferson, and Burr decides to put an end to it. The title is inspired by the actual way each man signed their correspondence back to each other leading to their duel. Burr begins enraged, but reverts to his quiet self in search of an apology. Hamilton is persistent, though. Both men want to avoid fighting, but it is the only way to settle the score. It is a quick, jaunty tune that, before you know it, brings about the biggest duel in American history. Also, the rhyming here is some of the best in the musical. Burr stands for something for maybe the first time ever, and Hamilton will have to stand before him. It sounds like a waltz, but really is a dance of death.

5.) “Guns and Ships”

What happens in the song: Lafayette takes center stage for his rap solo as he describes receiving French aid for the U.S. “The balance shifts” and Hamilton is awarded his command, setting the scene for the Battle of Yorktown soon after.

Sure, the message of the song is important, but Daveed Diggs is the reason it is able to be one of the best in the musical. He sets the record for the fastest set of lyrics in Broadway history, at one point spitting 19 words in a staggering three seconds, and he commands the stage like he does his troops. He is one of the more forgotten players of the war even though he was indispensable. It is split into two parts: Lafayette bringing back more guns and ships from France, helping to turn the tide, and Washington writing to Hamilton asking him to come back and fight with the command for which he has waited so long. (Washington sent Hamilton home a few songs prior after a heated argument following Laurens’ duel with second-in-command Charles Lee). The tune is short, sweet and to the point. It’s over before you know it, but that’s not saying you ever want it to end. I could listen to Diggs rap about France for hours, and the same can’t be said for anyone else.

4.) “My Shot”

What happens in the song: This is Hamilton’s signature song. He explains who he is and what his plans are to his new friends.

The song before, “Aaron Burr, Sir,” features Hamilton’s first interactions with Burr, Laurens, Lafayette and Mulligan, and their introductory raps are either nonexistent or very short and basic. This, though, is much more in-depth and expansive. Hamilton gives an abridged version of his life story, and then he goes on to describe his vision for the country. This is a 21-year-old kid trying to prove himself to people he has never met, but almost certainly have higher repute than he does. Also, more importantly, it speaks to everyone listening. Everyone has a shot they do not want to throw away. Their chance at success hinges on whether they want to seize it. There is a tremendous amount of labor and love that goes into achieving a dream, and both Hamilton and Miranda can speak to it. So can everyone on the planet with goals and a desire for legacy. Whether you need it for inspiration, a running playlist or something else to get you pumped, this tune fits almost every bill there is.

3.) “Alexander Hamilton”

What happens in the song: The opening number of the musical, introducing us to the titular character.

“His enemies destroyed his rep/America forgot him.” That’s just one of the many lines in this song that accurately describe the way history sees Hamilton. He is arguably the most forgotten Founding Father there is, but his impact was immeasurable. Listening to this song leaves you wanting more. It gives an overview of the entire musical essentially, but it drives the listener to want to hear the next 45 songs to see how it plays out. We meet the characters in Hamilton’s life before he gets a chance to do so. The opening notes and melody will be revisited in songs such as “Guns and Ships” and “The Adams Administration” to reflect important shifts in history, but it first comes up here. “Will they know what you overcame?/Will they know you rewrote the game?” He changed the U.S. for the better and nearly died on several occasions, and here we are reintroduced to that narrative.

2.) “Non-Stop”

What happens in the song: What doesn’t happen in this song? Hamilton and Burr become lawyers; Hamilton attends the Constitutional Convention; he works with James Madison and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers; Angelica moves to London with her husband; President Washington asks Hamilton to join his Cabinet as Treasury Secretary, despite pleas from Eliza to stay home.

Miranda certainly packs quite a bit into this number, which comes at the end of Act One. The pace and Hamilton himself are both described by the title, and the last 45 seconds to a minute is a perfect representation of what is running through Hamilton’s mind–Eliza and Angelica saying he will never be satisfied; Burr, showing some initial strain with Hamilton that will grow in Act Two, asking why he assumes he is “the smartest in the room;” Washington reminding him that history has its eyes on him; and the company acknowledging what the listener is thinking, that the cacophony is simply “non-stop!” The build-up is phenomenal, though, starting with the anachronistic murder trial of Levi Weeks, which Burr and Hamilton both work in this case, and so begins Hamilton’s post-war climb up the ladder. He said he wouldn’t throw away his shot, and he sticks to it. He helps put together the Constitution, and then proceeds to defend it. He never stops, writing 51 of the 85 Federalist essays. My hand aches to imagine the time that took. We get a small peek at the way Hamilton will govern in Act Two, once again where he won’t miss his shot at success. Excellent way to send the musical into intermission.

1.) “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”

What happens in the song: The colonies fight in and win the Battle of Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.

By far my favorite song from Hamilton, and it really isn’t even close. It perfectly encapsulates what is arguably the most important battle in United States history, and what it meant, in just four minutes. “The World Turned Upside Down” was a British drinking song that was reportedly sung by troops as they left Yorktown in defeat. The legitimacy of that yarn is up for debate, but the drinking song is very real. And what an appropriate tune to pluck from history for this number. No colony had ever fought back against the British Empire and won, so the world was truly turned on its head. If one song could describe revolution in a nutshell, it is this one. It has its ebbs and flows, going from calm to hectic, back to a slower pace then frantic again. I recommend playing it right as you’re about to achieve your runner’s high, because it makes you move twice as fast. It was the turning point for our country, and the musical, and it is the best song Hamilton has to offer.

Hensley Carrasco
Hensley graduated from the University of Rhode Island where he was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Good 5 Cent Cigar. He founded the site with hopes to add to the ever-growing digital music newsroom. Hensley generally writes about Hip-Hop, but other genres are not out of his writing spectrum. On the side, Hensley is a photographer, specializing in concert photography.

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