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Soundtracks and Theater

Top 100 Showtunes

Posted: May 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (3)

I like showtunes, in fact it’s pretty much the only kind of music I listen to. This has created a problem in my young life. All too often when meeting a peer and we engage in the traditional small talk (“How old are you?” “What school do you go to?”) It is never long before I am inevitably asked what kind of music I listen to. I say showtunes…..I get blank stares.

To be fair, most people my age don’t even really know what I mean by “showtunes”, odds are they know nobody their age who actively listens to them. Even those who can identify showtunes as songs performed in stage plays can only conjure up an image of a straight laced hunk belting “Oh what a beautiful morning”…Fine song it may be…It isn’t an accurate example of my taste in music…

Showtunes thrill me, they stick in my head, they teach me, they make me cry…The genre itself can vary within itself as much as country/western varies from rock music or even hip hop. The one thing that really distinguishes “my” music is that it tells a story. Beautiful stories, tragic stories, inspiring stories…and mostly love stories. There are characters, real people with real feelings that need to be told. The notes can be beautiful…But in the end they are there for the story.

I find a sense of awe in the art of good storytelling, be it a great book or a great serial drama…And most indications are that storytelling was the first of the human arts. So when it comes to music, listening to different bands has never done it for me. The songs are too simple, too self contained, they lack context. So this is it, this is my passion…I decided to make a personal list of my 100 favorite showtunes. I did not expect this mini project to suck me in so much…But I now lay it before you.

Click here for a list of Top Broadway Musicals

Important Stuff (What to expect!)

Truth be told, I didn’t think picking 100 songs would be that hard….I thought the painstaking part would be putting them in their proper order. My first task was to select my musicals…I went through several lists and picked about 85 shows. When it came time to nominate a few of my very favorite songs from these shows my initial attempt gave me about 350 songs. Needless to say that had to be trimmed.

By the time I got down to about 175 songs it was painful to cut them. At first I wanted to be as representational as possible. Soon I found that this was not possible while being true to myself…So let it be known now…Nobody can claim to create an objective list of the best showtunes. This is my personal list. I know there are songs you think are too high on the list, too low on the list, and a million songs that didn’t make the list entirely. I know I will be crucified for listing no songs from “Phantom of the Opera” but listed three from “Jekyll and Hyde”. I would love to please everyone, but in my opinion not all shows are created equal.

This brings us to a few important points about my list…Some things I have discovered about myself in this process…

A) According to my list, I tend to much prefer modern Broadway to classic Broadway. Don’t get me wrong, Many of my favorite shows were made before the 60’s…I think “My Fair Lady”(1956) is still one of the best written shows ever. In the end however it must be said, musicals (unlike most of the arts) are getting finer with age.

The older shows are very much products of their time, many many of them are classic certainly, and great in their own right…But vocally they were much more limiting. Men typically were baratone and the women were soprano…The characters were somewhat shallow and caricatures and stereotypes. The songs themselves weren’t used as much to progress the story. There were certainly shows here and there however that were way ahead of their time (Anything Goes).

This is not to say that modern musicals don’t suffer from these very same problems, in fact new shows often have problems all their own…Such as budget and production value becoming more important than the content of the show itself. However the great shows of today are more daring, vocally varied, and thought provoking than their grandfather shows.If you grew up on the classics I do apologize.

B) I tend to prefer the really dramatic/overly cheesy/ extremely depressing stuff over the happy/light and fluffy stuff. As much as I would love to include such classics as “Put on a happy face” (Bye Bye Birdie, 1960), I just couldn’t find a place. Looking at my list, the further down I get the more we hit the melodrama. Just so you know why your favorite slapstick silly song wasn’t included.

C ) Believe it or not I have NOT seen every musical. I have especially not been up on the past couple of years. This list will undoubtedly change as I am exposed to more and more great theatre. This list represents my 100 favorite songs as of right now

So if you are interested in my opinions then please read on and enjoy. Feedback is awesome. If you think it is an absolute crime that I left out “Day by Day” or “Music of the Night” then let me know. Every one of these songs speak to my heart, and I love them…every one.

100: They Live In You- The Lion King- 1997
Before I discovered the world of musical theatre I certainly did grow up on the Disney musical animated features. Lion King made perfect sense for the full stage treatment, in addition to all the great songs from the movie we get all these fantastic new songs. “They Live in You” hits all the right chords as an inspirational ballad. It creates the sense of atmosphere the show tries to achieve. I love the philosophical implications. You can take the meaning as literaly or as figuratively as you chose, and you can never have too many African tribal chants

99: Cell Block Tango- Chicago- 1975

So we have several rhythmic monologues with catch punch lines like “into his head!”. We have a powerful chorus tying the monologues together, and the potential for some of the greatest/most creative dancing ever seen on stage. Considering so much of the song is talking, there is a surprising amount of re-listenability here. The movie nailed it by the way….

98: Ya Got Trouble- The Music Man- 1957
One of the beautiful things about musical theatre is that you don’t just sing the songs, you act them. “Ya Got Trouble” is one of those “talky” songs. There aren’t many notes, but there are clever lyrics delivered at a break neck rhythmic pace. It is funny, it establishes the character…And it’s HARD to perform. This songs drips charisma and I love it
97: Memory- Cats- 1981
Cats fans may hate me because this song is extremely overdone. Most fans of the show can name about twenty songs they prefer to this one, but I am not particularly a cats fan. The fact is there is a reason this song has stuck in our heads and even crossed the barrier from musical theatre to pop culture…It is haunting and extremely singable. You may not particularly know the character struggles in this show, but even out of context you can hear the pain in the notes…You can imagine the struggle.

96: Three Bedroom House- Bat Boy- 1997
If you don’t know about this campy/dark/brilliant little musical, you probably will soon, a big screen movie is coming out in 2007. “Three Bedroom House” is a delightful little diddy about a mother and daughter’s plans to run away and disappear from the father who has gone insane. It’s upbeat and funny lyrics are accentuated by two amazing female voices on the off Broadway soundtrack. Kerry Butler’s unique voice shines through until we take a dramatic turn and Shelley reveals that she is in love with “Edgar” the bat boy! As her mother is appalled at this abomination Shelley runs off in a rage and we get a soft little reprise….And we end on a high note so to speak.

95: Last Night Of The World- Miss Saigon- 1989
There is a lesson you will learn from this list. As they say in AIDA, “Every story is a love story”. Almost every story has an element of romance, love is the most powerful of the human emotions so it flows to reason that most of the best songs are love songs. This duet succeeds in both being light and powerful at the same time. Most love duets have a very epic and sweeping sound to them and lots of belted high notes. “Last Night Of The World” on the other hand manages to feel very simple and elegant. Most importantly you believe it.

94: Thoroughly Modern Millie- Thoroughly Modern Millie- 1967/2002
Millie is a charming musical mostly due to it’s setting in the roaring 20’s. The music itself is nice enough but really can’t stand up that well on it’s own, the opening number on the other hand is incredibly catchy, all the while it really draws you in to it’s world. A musical about the changing role of women in society at such a dynamic time is very interesting, but it is this tone setter that is really something to write home about.

93: All Er Nuthin- Oklahoma- 1943
As much as “Oklahoma” may make me groan, “All Er Nuthin” is focused on the most interesting aspect of this dinosaur of a show…The relationship of Will Parker and Ado Annie. While Laurie and Curly may only elicit yawns, this song is quirky and funny..Not to mention a blast to sing.

92: Offier Krupke- West Side Story- 1957
If you want the perfect example of musical comedy look no further than this gem. Not only is it hilarious, but it pokes fun at the downfalls of the legal system and the social work program. Cause no one wants a fella with a social disease.

91: Wouldn’t It Be Loverly- My Fair Lady- 1956
I am in love with this show, and this catchy song is extremely endearing to our protagonist. I don’t know why I end up humming this one to myself so much…

90: A Home For You- Bat Boy 1997
An under appreciated song from an under appreciated show.This calming and beautiful lullaby emphasizes the themes of the show. In a world where it is easy to judge and blame all anyone really wants to unconditional acceptance.
“We’re not here to harm you, or make you feel ashamed. You can make mistakes here and you won’t be blamed”
Heavy stuff for such a campy little show.

89: I’ve Never Been In Love Before- Guys and Dolls- 1950

A great love song for a great show. It feels classy…It feels classic…And I sing it in the shower.

88: The Orgy- Reefer Madness- 2001

A charming and upstanding young lad of sixteen summers takes a hit of a dreaded reefer stick and is instantly transported to a physchedelic world of sex and pagan worship. The description itself is enough to sell the song. If you are watching the movie version then you are treated to some phenomonal vocals by Mrs Amy Spanger to boot.

87: A Hymn To Him- My Fair Lady 1956

“A Hym To Him” is probably the funniest song I know. I am in love with almost every line Higgens says in this show, as he ponders the shortcomings of the female gender I laugh because I am inclined to agree. As with most of the Higgens’s songs this one is “talky” and that suits me just fine.

86: Footloose/On Any Sunday- Footloose- 1998

The show has shortcomings yes, but I’ll be darned if “Footloose” wasn’t a pretty sweet rock song to begin with…And making it a showtune can only improve it as far as I am concerned. The title song transitions into a pretty nice church segment that sets up the characters. It may not be a very popular choice but I have always really enojyed this number as an opening.

85: Let Me Walk Among You- Bat Boy- 1997

I can’t believe we are on the third “Bat Boy” song already in the first 15 songs on the list…In cast you can’t tell I really like this strange little show. This song is just a nice little “Please Accept Me!” song. Our own Bat Boy tries to convince a small biased town to let him “walk among them”. It takes someone outside of “humanity” to show us all the things we take for granted…all the mundane things in our litle human lives….And just when you are about to take a serious lesson out of it all you realize that a bat/human hybrid is singing…

84: Stars and the Moon- Songs For a New World- 1995
Songs For A New World” Is Jason Robert Brown’s first produced show. Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that Jason Robert Brown is amazing. There may not be a great story here, but there is a collection of amazing self contained songs that really show off the budding talents of a man before he went on to write some of the most poignant and touching shows the stage has ever seen. As for why I picked “Stars an the Moon”…Just listen to it.

83: Any Dream Will Do- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- 1972
“Any Dream Will Do” is the perfect entrance for the hunky lead, whoever he may be. You will find yourself humming for weeks, then you will realize that the lyrics make no sense…But it won’t matter. The song is pretty mellow, the notes aren’t all over the place…But the melody is strong and memorable…

82: It Sucks To Be Me- Avenue Q- 2003

Why “It Sucks To Be Me”? Odds are from the first time you hear it you will never forget it…Sure it’s funny and all, but what really makes it special is that right from the gate you know this isn’t going to be your average show. This show has edge, it has spunk, it has puppets inexplicitly interacting with humans….They are crass and somewhat rude, you wonder what kind of world these characters occupy. Then Gary Coleman comes out and it all gets crazy from there.

81: Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats- Cats- 1981

I may not like CATS very much as a whole, but what an entrance! Just about everything clever I find in this show I get from the opening number. The lyrics are fantastic and funny, you get the mission statement of the show loud and clear, and man is it catchy…like…too catchy…catchy enough for me to get mad at myself for randomly singing CATS. We end off with a nice poetical “speaking in rhythm” segment that is incredibly thought provoking and pseudo philosophical about the meaning of our names. You pretty much can’t beat this…Not since “Oklahoma” have I loved a song so much from a show that I don’t even like.

80: For Now- Avenue Q- 2003

Life Goes on, don’t kill yourself over problems that won’t even be there tommorow…Listen to this philosophy in showtune form…With puppets!

79: Circle of Life- The Lion King 1997

It was cheesy in the movie, and it’s cheesy now. No matter, There is a great cultural feel about this song, and opportunities for some pretty amazing vocals.

78: Hair- Hair- 1967

What a wonderfully upbeat hippie song! Most of the score from “Hair” could pretty easily cross over into mainstream music because of it’s universal appeal. All this talk about the virtues of long hair make me want to grow a mane…

77: You Can’t Stop The Beat- Hairspray- 2002

This song is a toe tappin finale and a big liberal love fest. The message is clear, don’t judge others, everyone get along, come dance with us!

76: Once Upon The Natchez Trace- The Robber Bridegroom- 1977

A far as musical comedies go, this often overlooked/unheard of show is top of the line. This very bluegrass opening number introduces us to our quirky cast of main characters through their future descendents (played by the same actors who play the characters themselves). We are brought into the show as if it is being told as a long passed down piece of folklore…This song creatively puts all the characters and setting in place for a hilarious show.

75: Guys and Dolls- Guys and Dolls- 1955

“Guys and Dolls” is catchy, funny, and speaks a social truth that transcends the period setting.

74: Do You Hear the People Sing- Les Miserables- 1980

Here we have a heck of a protest song from a very overrated (although great) musical.

73: My Strongest Suit- Aida- 1998

I love songs that A) “Steal” the show B) Make you forget the context of the show and C) Have false endings. So it only makes sense that this rock out intentionally shallow song pushes my buttons, Sherie Rene Scott on the original cast album certainly doesn’t hurt it’s case.

72: Momma Look Sharp- 1776- 1969
1776 is a fantastic show all around, but this incredibly haunting song seems to come out of nowhere. We feel so far removed from the revolutionary war that we often forget the real human tragedy of it all, “Momma Look Sharp” will remind you. Pretty tear inducing stuff.

71: Step Too Far- Aida- 1998
Can’t I just have a song on here because it is catchy and really fun to sing?

70: Listen To Jesus Jimmy- Reefer Madness- 2001
Maybe just because it offends Christian sensibilities. But probably because it is funny. Shocking is just a bonus.

69: But Mr Adams- 1776- 1969
A select group of our favorite founding fathers are selected to draft the Declaration of Independence, they promptly begin arguing over who is to write it to hilarious results. I dare you not to laugh when Benjamin Franklin says “Hell No”

68: Dancing Through Life- Wicked- 2003
A perfect example of story driven music. The tunes change, cross in and out of each other, and culminate in a grand ending performed by the entire cast. All the while the story propels forward and we get great character moments. It really has to be heard to be understood.

67: Louder Than Words- Tick Tick Boom- 2001

Tick Tick Boom is sort of an anomaly. Jonathan Larson wrote this show long before the world ever knew his name, and after his death and the subsequent success of RENT Larson’s quirky early work gets a proper production. Larson’s style was still developing here…Heck…it was still developing when he died…He had a lot more to give us. You may love his stuff or hate it, I happen to be in the former category and I find this one in particular very uplifting.

66: Go, Go, Go Joseph- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- 1972

The word “upbeat” doesn’t even describe it, this is an excuse to bring out the most crazy and psychedelic costumes and set pieces you can imagine. Aesthetically speaking this show is all about color, and this is the song that really shows it. And you can dance crazy!

65: As Long as You’re Mine- Wicked- 2003

There aren’t enough haunting love ballads in the world.

64: The Shmuel Song- The Last Five Years- 2002

“The Last Five Years” is one of the most brilliant things ever conceived…ever. I won’t give you the whole rundown, but I will say that this is a character developing piece disguised as a story. We get to see what really inspires Jamie, success. Jamie thinks that by offering “success” to the one he loves, he is giving the best gift he can give. This is one of the reasons he ultimately fails on the one thing he claims is most imporant…Kathy. We begin to see all the subtleties of the problems in the relationship, the cracks are showing….

63: On My Own- Les Miserables- 1980

Because I said so.

62: Take Me As I Am- Jekyll And Hyde- 1997

Love Song. Big Voices. Soaring Heights. Epic. I’m a sucker.

61: I’m Free/Heaven Help Me- Footloose- 1998

In addition to epic love songs I am also a sucker for rebellion songs. This song is rock all the way, it the message is simple, “Stick it to the man!”.

60: Pity The Child- Chess- 1986

Chess has one of the best scores of all time.This tortured character piece really stings, few songs can rival the emotion and intensity found here.

59: I Know the Truth- Aida- 1998

“I Know the Truth” has exactly the kind of theme and vocals I love in a female piece. This is a nice contrast piece for Amneris from the earlier “Stronger Suite” in this list. It is painful, real, and just so pretty.

58: No One Mourns the Wicked- Wicked- 2003

“Wicked” has a fantastic way of having truly epic showtunes, that is, songs that span several characters and their motivations. Much like “Dancing Through Life” earlier in the list, we get several little tunes interweaved with a strong chorus. In addition to all that this is a marvelous opening number, it sets us up in a world, it exposed us to a very back/white or good/evil world view…Then spends the next two hours tearing down our preconceived notions of what it is to be wicked. Taking a well known story that really is morally simplistic and showing a more sympathetic side to the bad “character” as well as a darker side to the “good” character is nothing short of brilliant (Like they did in that book about the wolf and the three pigs). The lesson? That unless you have every scrap of information you really shouldn’t judge. All this in one opening number!

57: Therapy- Tick Tick Boom- 2001

This funny little piece has to be one of the most fun songs to sing of all time. There may not be much substance, but style and fun have to count for something. I mean…It’s really…philosophical…

56: Once In a While- The Rocky Horror Show- 1973

If you only know of Rocky Horror through the movie, odds are you’ve never even heard this one. Yes one of the very best songs in this highly charged musical was left out of the movie. In any event this may be seen as a weird choice, but there’s no accounting for taste. I just love this song, it is soft and simple but I love the melody. The definitive version of this song is in the new Broadway recording.

55: The Wizard And I- Wicked- 2003

A hopelessly optimistic character piece, a chance for some really soaring female vocals, and a host of clever little references to the movie. Winner.

54: Somewhere That’s Green- Little Shop of Horrors- 1982

A song that is almost simultaneously funny and sad. Ellen Green’s (and subsequently Kerry Butler’s) character is so silly yet legitimate. Little Sop is a dark show, no doubt about it, it may be a comedy but this is a song about an abused woman who lives in the slums dreaming about someday having the kind of happy life she sees in magazines. And we all know poor Audrey will end up “somewhere that’s green”.

53: Is Anybody There- 1776- 1969

Such Passion! Such Fire! The historical John Adams is done justice. This solo piece is performed in an empty and dimly lit congressional chamber…I’ll just let the lyrics speak for themselves…

I see fireworks! I see the pageant and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans – all Americans
Free forever more

52: Close Every Door- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- 1972

A beautifully written song that, like most songs in Joseph, is never incredibly vocally demanding. It’s just pretty.

51: Tommorow- Annie- 1976

What a simple sentiment, and what a universal truth. The sun will come out tomorrow, imagine that. Annie is a great show, and this is one that pretty much every American knows and loves.

50: Shadow Land- The Lion King- 1997
It just sounds so epic.

49: This is the Moment- Jekyll and Hyde- 1997
Music can inspire a lot of emotions, inspiration itself is a big one. Our Mr Jekyll may be singing about conquering his own personal demons, but you can apply any meaning you want. In any event as the music swells and reaches its climax the point is clear…THIS is the moment!

48: Romeo and Juliet- Reefer Madness- 2001
A fun little love song. Jimmy and Mary think each other are the bees knee, as they bond over studying Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” for school they begin to think of themselves as the star crossed lovers…Only they hypothesize about the ending when the lovers will probably get married and have kids (since our naive children have yet to reach the end of the play). Har Har Har. All that hilariousness aside, the song is so upbeat and catchy that it is irresistible to sing along.

47: I Got Life- Hair- 1967
This is one of those cases when the lyrics have to speak for the song itself

I got my hair
I got my head
I got my brains
I got my ears
I got my eyes
I got my nose
I got my mouth
I got my teeth
I got my tongue
I got my chin
I got my neck
I got my tits
I got my heart
I got my soul
I got my back
I got my ass
I got my arms
I got my hands
I got my fingers
Got my legs
I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood

I got my guts (I got my guts)
I got my muscles (muscles)
I got life (life)
Life (life)
Life (life)
LIFE!

 

Even if we low on bread and haven’t got a thing in the world, we certainly have all these things right? (Unless you lost your ass in an accident). If you are watching this part of the movie you will be treated to one of the best scenes in musical cinema.

46: Fantasies Come True- Avenue Q- 2003
This song is hilarious. One guy sings in this song as two separate characters. The song ends as a beautiful duet between two characters singing about who they love (but not each other). Half of the story ends up being a dream. Surprising when you dissect this weird little number.

45: The Egg- 1776- 1969
Here we have some of our founding fathers singing( Which alone make it fantastic) about the birth of our new nation. We get some great patriotic imagery.

And just as Tom here has written
Though the shell may belong the Great Britain
The eagle inside belongs to us!

44: My New Philosophy- You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown- 1967
“You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” not only brings beloved cartoon characters to life on stage, it is also one of the most clever shows ever written. This material is soaking wet with wit, and using children for this dialogue is about as funny as it gets. “My New Philosophy” is the about the funniest/cutest/most charming song in the world. If you have heard it then you don’t need me to tell you why.

43: Goodbye Until Tomorrow- The Last Five Years- 2002
In this closing number Jamie is at the end of the relationship, his lyrics are full of pain and emotional exhaustion. Thanks to the time flow gimmick of this show Kathy is experiencing the giddy excitement of first falling in love. Kathy is leaving Jamie after a perfect first date. “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” she says, “Goodbye until the rest of my life”. Meanwhile we hear Jamie sing “Goodbye Kathy”…Only (across time) he means it…This really is goodbye. This song is one of the saddest/most touching/bittersweet moments ever created.

42: Defying Gravity- Wicked- 2003
The song that begins as a conflict of ideologies ends up being a personal inspiration number and one of the best Act 1 closers of all time. It is pure power and it makes you giddy and impatient for act 2.

41: He Wanted to Say- Ragtime- 1998
I love everything about “Ragtime”. Mother’s Younger Brother knows he has a purpose, a fire in house heart. He knows his heart goes out to the plight of Coalhouse Walker and wants to offer his very life if he has to…Only Mr Walker is a pretty intimidating guy, and Younger Brother has never really been anything other than cowardly. This song perfectly demonstrates that often times what we say is different than what we want to say…But even though the words were jumbled up, both men still got the message…And that it beautiful

40: Wheels of a Dream- Ragtime- 1998

It is purely coincidental that there are two ragtime songs in a row here, but this ballad certainly deserves it’s spot. Ragtime is a very patriotic show, and this song represents the values of the American dream.

39: The Gods Love Nubia- Aida- 1998

You know why, it is a true show stopper, ripe with power and amazing vocals just as an Act 1 finale should be.

38: Back To Before- Ragtime- 1998

There really is a sudden onslaught of Ragtime..This beautiful piece is all about the liberal dribble of a formerly complacent woman learning (through a life changing series of events) that she is no longer content to sit idly by and let her husband make all the decisions. A nice sentiment for over a decade before women gained the right to vote.

There really is a sudden onslaught of Ragtime..This beautiful piece is all about the liberal dribble of a formerly complacent woman learning (through a life changing series of events) that she is no longer content to sit idly by and let her husband make all the decisions. A nice sentiment for over a decade before women gained the right to vote.

37: Confrontation- Jekyll and Hyde- 1997

What an amazing number to perform eh? You two very distinctive characters struggling for control over the same body. Internal conflict meets external conflict coupled with the timelessness of the theme of good vs evil….

 

36: I Don’t Know How To Love Him- Jesus Christ Superstar- 1970

I suspect that major JCS fans may see this song as CATS fans see “memory”…That is to say that “I don’t know how to love him” has transcended its original meaning and entered the pop culture repertoire. Really though this song is a wonderful character piece that well establishes the conflict the Mary has over her relationship with our titular protagonist. Ok so maybe the song is a little overdone at auditions…But it sure is pretty.

 

35: Everybody’s Got The Right- Assassins- 1991

The song is equally creepy and brilliant, there’s just something about seeing a chorus line of successful and would be presidential assassins singing “Everybody’s got the right to their dreams”.

34: Elaborate Lives- Aida- 1998
A beautiful love song with a heart stopping climax…Like THAT isn’t going to make my list.

33: Tell Me It’s Not True- Blood Brothers- 1982
This is one of those songs that just rips your heart out. “Blood Brothers” is a very overlooked piece of melodrama. We are told from the very beginning that our two main characters will die should they ever discover their true identities, but it doesn’t make it any less heart breaking when a senseless tragedy robs a mother of her two sons simultaneously before her eyes. It is contemporary, yet mythic…almost Shakespearean…

32: Without Love- Hairspray- 2002
Hairspray is one of those shows that takes on issues of importance yet remains pretty shallow in execution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s fluff. “Without Love” is great fluff…It is fun to listen to and makes you feel better about yourself.

31: Nobody Needs To Know- The Last Five Years- 2002
I don’t think there is a more HONEST song on this list. This may as well not even be musical theatre…This is real life. It is a multi layered and complicated situation set to some beautiful music. Initially we blame Jamie for doing what he did, but in the end we understand and even RELATE to what he did. That is the sign of some intelligent and engaging lyrics. (I am purposely vague on some of these, the purpose being that either you know the song or you should immediately listen to it…But I’m not ruining the surprise)

30: Another Day- Rent- 1996
“Another Day” is so fantastic because it is a clash of ideals. Here we have two characters who have more in common than they even know, yet their outlooks and approaches are so different. As much as Mimi reaches out for experience (living life to the fullest), Roger’s fear keeps him closeted and apprehensive. The different themes fit beautifully together

There’s only now, There’s only here
Give in the love, or live in fear

29: Floor Show- The Rocky Horror Show- 1973
It’s no secret this show is…weird…or…alternative…But it reaches it’s climax of weirdness here with a very catchy and varied string of numbers.

28: Maybe- Annie- 1976
This sweet little song says more for optimism in the face of adversity than the much more popular “Tomorrow” from the same show. It’s hard to not feel your heart go out to her.

27: By the Sword/Sons of Dixie- The Civil War- 1998
This criminally overlooked show has some wonderful music, not the least of which is this powerfully epic sounding song that is split into two separate tunes between the union and confederate soldiers respectively.

26: Facade- Jekyll and Hyde- 1997
The themes of this show are duality and the masks we wear. This song doesn’t use any of our main characters, yet drives home these themes perfectly…And in a thought provoking way.

25: Seasons of Love- Rent- 1996
I fear that this song has lost it’s original impact and power from 10 years of being overdone. However this song is the cornerstone of the show (yea go ahead and disagree). The core philosophy of RENT is well stated.

24: The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square- Ragtime- 1998
Mother’s younger brother, our passionate young man, stumbles into a fiery speech by anarchist Emma Goldman and is swept up in his own personal calling. It’s invigorating

23: Skid Row- Little Shop of Horrors- 1982
I fell in love with this dark little musical the minute I saw this incredibly depressing set up. We are introduced to the setting and characters, then we get to spend the rest of the show hoping a single thing goes right for these people.

22: Aquarius- Hair- 1967
You know it’s timeless…I don’t need to tell you that. It’s pure unabridged hippie love.

21: The Ballad of Booth- Assassins- 1991
I am ridiculously in love with this song. It manages to be very engaging and insightful. Booth is fiercely defending assassinating Lincoln all the while interacting with the timeless Narrator (Balladeer). Tearing down the fourth wall for this show in order to offer historical perspective is a perfect choice. The most interesting observation comes from our balladeer after Booth takes his own life.

But traitors just get jeers and boos,
Not visits to their graves,
While Lincoln, who got mixed reviews,
Because of you, John, now gets only raves.

20: Springtime For Hitler- The Producers- 2001

“Springtime for Hitler” works on so many levels. Besides practically being the pinnacle of music comedy, its “show within a show format” makes for some ripe jabs at musical theatre itself. Oh yea…and it’s shockingly distasteful.

19: Unworthy of Your Love- Assassins- 1991

This is one of my absolute favorite love duets of all time, it is totally twisted. If you heard the song on the radio you may not think much of it…It sounds like a simple enough love ballad. However in the context of the show you know that the song is being song by John Hinkley and Lynette Fromme who you may know as attempted presidential assassins of Reagan and Ford respectively. Yes this pretty little song is being sung by two complete psychopaths, Hinkley sings of his obsession with Jodi Foster and Fromme sings about her obsession with Charlie Manson. Both of these people really did attempt assassination to impress the objects of their obsession, so teaming them up in this number is incredibly brilliant.

18: Comfort and Joy- Bat Boy- 1997

This is just a brilliant montage/marathon number and a strong close to the first act, check it out for yourself.

 

17: Old Man River- Show Boat- 1927

“Ahead of it’s time” is a saying that is thrown around a lot, but if it applies to anything it certainly applies to “Show Boat”…It opened in 1927 for crying out loud! “Old Man River” sticks with you from the first time you hear it. The word “haunting” is an understatement

16: Suddenly Seymour- Little Shop of Horrors- 1982

The higher up on my list the more frequent these love ballads are, and what a fun song to sing with someone! If one thing is clear in “Little Shop” it’s that these only two nice characters deserve each other, and it is grand when they realize it…however brief it may be.

15: Written in the Stars- Aida- 1998

What did I tell you about love songs? This show tends to be a little over dramatic at points, but Elton John’s music is always fantastic (Ok except for “Another Pyramid”…I’m sure that one makes my bottom 100 list). All the right “tragic” and “star crossed lover” chords are nailed here.

14: Till We Reach That Day- Ragtime- 1998

A lot of Act 1 finales lately eh? Rarely does a show perfectly display the suffering of it’s characters from social injustice. Everything in this fantastic and tear inducing number is summed up perfectly by one of the lines. “What is wrong with this country”.

13: Happiness- You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown- 1967

The title says it all, this song IS happiness. I dare you to listen to it without smiling. “Happiness is anyone and anything at all, that’s loved by you”

12: The Last Super- Jesus Christ Superstar- 1970

This dramatic interpretation of the biblical last supper is so full overflowing with passion, anger, regret, and a myriad of other human emotions that one listen through is never enough to pick up on all of this. Some may see the climax as the death of Jesus, to me the entire emotional brunt of the show is resting on the moment Judas sells out Jesus…And the second guessing, the regret, the pain…

This dramatic interpretation of the biblical last supper is so full overflowing with passion, anger, regret, and a myriad of other human emotions that one listen through is never enough to pick up on all of this. Some may see the climax as the death of Jesus, to me the entire emotional brunt of the show is resting on the moment Judas sells out Jesus…And the second guessing, the regret, the pain…

11: La Vie Boheme- Rent- 1996

These guys are crazy with their zany bohemian life style…and they can talk real fast! This one earns its place with pure fun factor, some of the best lyrics ever conceived, and simulated oral sex on stage.

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10: For Good- Wicked- 2003

I guess I’m kind of embarrassed that this is so high on my list, but is so pretty to me…and the theme of how friends positively affect each others lives gets me all weepy.

9: In His Eyes- Jekyll and Hyde- 1997
Another beautiful song with two strong female voices. This is a love song too, but it’s two very different women both singing about their love for the same man…A bit of a twist on the formula you see…

8: Easy To Be Hard- Hair- 1967

Just watch the movie and you will know what I mean

“Especially people who care about strangers, who say they care about social injustice”

7: Make Them Hear You- Ragtime- 1998

This is one of the ultimate inspiration songs, we are left disagreeing with the methods of Coalhouse, yet we can not help our hearts going out to his cause.

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight, that sometimes there battles which are more than black or white. And I could not put down my sword when justice was my right”

“Proclaim it from your pulpit, in your classroom with you pen. Teach ever child to raise his voice and then my brothers then, will justice be demanded by ten million rightous men. Make them hear you.”

6: Without You- Rent- 1996

The is poetry set to music. The imagery is incredible and the point very thought provoking. It is strange to think that something as passionate as the love we feel for one another is relatively inconsequential to the constant motion of the world. It is ultimately a tragedy, even when the lovers lives are torn apart…The world keeps on turning.

“Life goes on, but I’m gone without you”

 

5: Heaven On Their Minds- Jesus Christ Superstar- 1970

The best character intro EVER. The inner turmoil, the complication…every aspect of this amazing character are perfectly introduced. From the very first moment the conflict is set, the vocals are powerful, and there is a high A.

4: Easy Terms- Blood Brothers- 1982

See there, my list has well established favorites like “Heaven on their minds” right next to songs like this…which nobody ever really thinks about. “Easy Terms” is heartbreaking, it burrows into the center of your soul and doesn’t let go. This song is the strife of the poor, there is only the illusion of a real life…But you always know that at any moment you could loose it all.

“Only mine until, the time comes round to pay the bill. Then I’m afraid what can’t be paid must be returned. You never ever learn that nothing’s yours on easy terms.”

3: The Next Ten Minutes- The Last Five Years- 2002

Does anyone else find it humorous that both the song title and the show title are measurements of time? Those of you who know the entire gimmick of the know that this is the one moment of the show where the paths of the lovers cross, and for a single beautiful moment they sing together…directly to each other. This moment is their wedding, Jamie and Kathy exchange their vows and promise to love each other forever…But the fact that we know what will become of their love tints this sweet moment with tragedy…Then after the climax they go their separate ways in the flow of time, Kathy goes toward the happiness of times past as Jamie heads toward heartbreak.

2: Nobody’s Side- Chess- 1986

In the end I think I prefer awesome female singing to awesome male singing. All I can do is rave about this song and foam at the mouth…Maybe I’m just a sucker for strong women standing up for themselves in a moment on inspirational clarity.

1: Tonight- West Side Story- 1957

So why is “Tonight” the ultimate Broadway song?

A) We established very early on in this list that “Every story is a love story”. Love songs speak directly to our deepest needs and desires. To love and be loved in return.

B) The raw archetypical power of the material. “West Side Story” is a contemporary “Romeo and Juliet” which is one of the most timeless love stories dramatized for public performance.

Tony and Maria aren’t big personalities, they aren’t complicated and layered characters. In a way they aren’t really people…They represent a single aspect of our psyche. They simply exist to love each other. Whether or not Tony and Maria actually loved each other is irrelevant (Just as it is in the Hundreds of years old source material). The fact that they THINK they are in love is enough, everything they feel may not be legitimate, but you know it is real.

You can feel an amazing energy in this song, it is easy to sing and be swept up in its grandeur. So just enjoy it

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See also:
List of Top Broadway Musicals

Comments (3)

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comments ( 3 )

  • May 2, 2014 at 12:25 pm Lauren

    All amazing songs :D and I’m 15 and completely obsessed with show tunes so I completely get what you mean about everyone else not having a clue :)

    Reply
  • June 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm Johnny

    I invite you to explore Sondheim’s shows (into the woods, company, sweeney todd, etc.) I’d think you would have to change your list a bit.

    Reply
  • June 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm Ashley

    Your list is well thought out and comprehensive. I agree with some of it, and have 2 additions. Firstly, ‘Molasses to Rum’ from 1776, stands right up there with ‘Ol’ Man River’ as an epic Broadway song. Nothing lighthearted about it, just a not-very-ethical man singing his truth with passion. I’ll never forget seeing it onstage or hearing the definitive version from a young John Cullum in the film. Secondly, an even more obscure song from ‘Two by Two,’ and one of the loveliest love songs ever: ‘I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You.’

    Reply