"A performance must be larger than life, but to be worthwhile you must have an element of humanity."
U2 Lists: Top 20 U2 Songs Similar to 'Hamilton' Songs
July 20, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 68th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
It’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with Hamilton. I know the soundtrack inside and out. I’m nearly 500 pages deep into author Ron Chernow’s biography about our first Treasury secretary (the same book that inspired the musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda). The story of America by way of hip-hop lives up to its hype in more ways than one.
Like U2, Hamilton came into my life when I needed some saving. I was enduring feelings of self-doubt and moments of loneliness earlier this year. I bought the soundtrack without having seen the show (which I’ve never done before). It was like a burst of sun that pierced through the darkest of clouds. It was exactly what I needed. It had the answers I was looking for. I listened to it for weeks on end. When I saw the show in May, it was just as brilliant as it was on the recording. I walked out of the theater completely moved and in awe.
Only recently I started thinking about some common themes in the songs from Hamilton and songs by U2. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. The following list is the result of that bright idea. While the Hamilton soundtrack is huge (46 songs!), I narrowed it down to 20. I chose to list the songs in the order of how they are on the album. I even made this a new playlist on my iPod. Let’s hit the play button on this history lesson!
1. “Alexander Hamilton” / “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”
Both of these songs portray men who were indeed legends of their time. In the title song, the various players in Hamilton’s life give us his background and tell what he was capable of. Hamilton appears and warns the audience that he’s barely scratched the surface. U2’s song dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. tells us what this man gave to make sure equality was possible in the face of hatred. There is a strong sense of passion and determination within both men.
2. “My Shot” / “Out Of Control”
Ah, to be a young man anxious about growing up! Nineteen-year-old Hamilton is ready to join the Revolution and prove that he’s not only ready to fight, but also willing to die. He’s not ruining his chance to be a hero. Miranda has said it took him a year to write “My Shot,” and hearing the song, it’s clear the work paid off. In U2 By U2, Bono said the Boy track is about “realizing that you have no say in the two most important things that happen to you: when you arrive and when you depart the planet.” For Hamilton, who became an orphan at a young age and was consumed with the idea of death, his world was indeed out of control.
3. “The Story Of Tonight” / “Cedarwood Road"
Youth and friendship amid the beginning of war is represented in “The Story Of Tonight.” Hamilton and his new friends (John Laurens, the Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan) “raise a glass” to the independence America has gained and their vow to keep it that way. They envision this piece of history to be told for years to come. Bono reflects on growing up in Dublin during traumatic times while keeping his faithful childhood friends close by. I truly imagine Bono as Hamilton with his Revolution friends in tow (Guggi, Gavin, and his band mates).
4. “The Schuyler Sisters” / “Angel of Harlem”
I could have chosen my favorite U2 song about New York, “City Of Blinding Lights.” I also could have picked “New York.” But “The Schuyler Sisters” is a special song. The arrival of the spirited Angelica, Eliza and Peggy Schuyler in Manhattan practically sparkles. No other U2 song makes me feel the way “Angel Of Harlem” does. Listening to Bono sing about U2’s arrival in NYC has that same euphoria. The Schuyler Sisters were indeed the angels of Manhattan.
5. “Helpless” / “The Sweetest Thing”
“The Sweetest Thing” to me is U2 at their cutest. It’s a simple song that makes you feel truly warm and fuzzy. This same sentiment can be said about “Helpless,” as we listen to Eliza Schuyler fall head over heels in love with Hamilton. You’re rooting for them from the start, just as you’ll always be on Team Bono and Ali.
6. “Satisfied” / “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
Losing a love interest for reasons out of your control is difficult to navigate through. No one understands this more than Angelica Schuyler, who despite her secret feelings for Hamilton, introduces him to her sister Eliza, thus setting the scene for them to fall in love and marry. In her electrifying wedding toast, Angelica rewinds time and explains what happened when she met Hamilton for the first time. She knows he’s better off with her but also knows that he wants too much and will never be content with what he has (a prediction that proves true later in the show). For the record, “Satisfied” is my favorite song on the album. It’s on another level of perfection. The subject of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” faces the same line of inquisition from Bono. The subject is self-destructive to themselves and Bono asks where are they going to be when they end up alone? Angelica might as well be singing this to Hamilton.
7. “Wait For It” / “Zooropa”
Unlike his frenemy Hamilton, Aaron Burr doesn’t see why he should be so ambitious when it comes to wanting things in life. While Hamilton keeps pursuing a chance to fight in combat while proving himself as an aide to General George Washington, Burr chooses to “Wait For It” and allow fate to take its course. “Zooropa” reminds me of this same feeling. It's having a personal confidence that things will work out how they should and being secure in one’s self-assurance that it’s written in the stars.
8. “Stay Alive” / “Raised By Wolves”
The brutality of war is at the center of both these songs. In “Stay Alive” Hamilton discusses the hardships the Continental Army is facing as they fight the British while Bono tells of the bloody scene resulting from a series of car bombs set off in Dublin. Being “stronger than fear” is a lesson both Bono and Hamilton were forced to learn in order to stay alive.
9. “Ten Duel Commandments” / “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
Conflicts are best solved with violence, right? At least that’s what “Ten Duel Commandments” says. The song provides the listener with the rules as to how to go about embarking on a duel with someone. From who to bring with you to how to negotiate an apology, the chance to scare your opponent with one shot from your gun was the real deal during the Revolution. Seeing the results of warfare in front of his very eyes, Bono sees how much violence can destroy humanity. The duels in American history and the bloody streets of Ireland proved that battle lines were drawn everywhere.
10. “That Would Be Enough” / “All I Want Is You”
In “That Would Be Enough” Eliza takes on the role of Bono when she sings about how she doesn’t care if Hamilton is poor and that despite all his self-doubt, she has so much love for him to overshadow it all. For him to just be himself, that would be enough. This is how Bono proclaims his love in “All I Want Is You.” Despite his beloved making requests for concrete things, he knows that they don’t matter when it comes to giving his whole heart.
11. “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” / “Get On Your Boots”
These songs share the theme of being surrounded by war yet there is a small ray of hope that is trying to make its way through. “Yorktown” recreates the famous battle that ends the Revolution and secures victory for the Colonies. Hamilton is craving a win as he desperately needs to get home to meet his unborn son. “Get On Your Boots” is about danger within beauty. The female subject can’t recognize her loveliness and the male hero wants her to know she is charming even though she can only see war outside her window.
12. “Dear Theodosia” / “Original Of The Species”
Children are the focus of these two songs. Becoming new fathers has a profound effect on Burr and Hamilton in “Dear Theodosia.” The men sing of hope for them (Burr to daughter Theodosia; Hamilton to son Philip) and their promise to become role models for them since they didn’t have that growing up. “Original Of The Species” asks children to stay young at heart despite feeling doubtful about themselves or their future. These songs are meant to touch your heart and they definitely do.
13. “Non-Stop” / “Invisible”
If there is anything we know about Hamilton from the title song, it’s that we are confident he is a force to be reckoned with. Nothing stands in his way as he fights for his beliefs. “Non-Stop” shows how much Hamilton wrote to get his ideas into the light and winning the position of Treasury secretary, despite facing criticism. He definitely made sure he wasn’t invisible, and I think U2’s song of the same name fits him perfectly.
14. “The Room Where It Happens” / “Where The Streets Have No Name”
This choice isn’t really noting any theme similarities between the two songs, but rather their general vibe. We all collectively lose our minds when U2 play “Where The Streets Have No Name.” We anticipate it, it sets our pulses racing, and it’s the ultimate crowd pleaser. I feel this way about “The Room Where It Happens.” It’s the perfect showman song for Burr, who desperately wants to be in the elite club of politicians that constantly shut him out. We see his true persona come through. It’s big and bold. If there were two words to describe U2, these would be them.
15. “One Last Time” / “Kite”
“One Last Time” and “Kite” share the common thread of fathers saying good-bye and anticipating what the future holds. Washington decides to step down from being President, which makes Hamilton scared about the future of the nation. Washington knows that saying good-bye and embracing a new chapter is what’s best. Bono, like Washington, has an optimistic look on the future despite the raw sadness that getting older and seeing your children grow up can cause. To take a cue from Washington, you must “teach them how to say good-bye.”
16. “Hurricane” / “Gone”
Facing the exposure of his extramarital affair and blackmail, Hamilton tries to seek a solution. His character has got the best of him and he isn’t as untouchable as he thought he was. “Hurricane” has him looking back on how he used his power of the pen to get him out of trouble and to save face. “Gone” chronicles a “rock star” (according to Bono) who is in the midst of an ego crisis as well. The song might as well be about the disgraced politician.
17. “Burn” / “So Cruel”
There is nothing worse than a broken heart. Trying to put back the pieces can be a devastating task. Just ask Eliza, who is faced with the shame of discovering her husband’s affair made public. From reminiscing about their courtship to destroying the letters he wrote to her, Eliza must attempt to stand tall in the face of heartbreak because of her callous lover. “So Cruel” is the perfect twin to her song “Burn.”
18. “It’s Quiet Uptown” / “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”
We take on the theme of loss and moving on in these two songs. Following the death of their son Philip in a duel (while defending his father’s honor), Hamilton and his family move away from the city into calmer life. Having dealt with her husband’s affair, Eliza now has to endure the loss of her child. Hamilton knows he’s not perfect and has done wrong. In “It’s Quiet Uptown,” he wants Eliza to know he’ll give her all the time she needs to heal. Bono’s tribute to his late father echoes his plea that he is willing to fight the battles for him. Bono and Hamilton both wish to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their family.
19. “The World Was Wide Enough” / “Until The End Of The World”
Betrayal is told in these two songs, as men turn on each other with tragic results. In “The World Was Wide Enough,” Burr and Hamilton face off in their legendary duel and each man shares his view before and after the shots are fired. When friendship turns fatal, we see a sympathetic Burr and an almost eager Hamilton staring death in the face. U2’s take on the shattered relationship between Judas and Jesus isn’t as dark, but it still makes you see camaraderie in a different light.
20. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” / “Iris (Hold Me Close)”
The theme that is consistently present in Hamilton is that of legacies. “What is a legacy,” Hamilton asks in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Indeed, Hamilton never got to live long enough to see his enduring legacy in American history. The same could be said for Iris Hewson, who passed away when her son was only 14. She never got to see him grow up into the rock star we now know him as. Through Bono, we get to see a picture of Iris and a sense of her story. For Hamilton, his wife Eliza takes the torch and continues to champion his legacy after his passing. It’s an ending but also provides a new beginning.
(c) @U2/Marino 2016