Monday, March 21, 2016

Hamilton, Albums, and Musical Obsessions

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait... 

(Listen here.)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Here in our apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, it's all Hamilton, all the time — thanks to Kiddo, who got the cast album for his birthday.  In case you haven't heard of it (and I don't know how that's possible), we're talking the hip-hopera Hamilton: An American Musical, currently crushing box-office records on Broadway. It's written and created by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also stars) and is about, yes, that famous Federalist who was never our president, but still graces the ten-dollar bill. The cast, seen on the Grammys here, recently took the show on the road to the White House, which you can see here

The Hamilton soundtrack, released digitally in September, skyrocketed into numbers no one's ever heard of for a musical: It was the first Broadway cast album to ever hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rap Album chart, the first to ever receive a five-star rating on, the highest-debuting cast album on the Billboard 200 in over 50 years, and boasted the highest debut sales for a digital casting album ever. It was streamed 16 million times in its first three weeks. (We bought the actual CD, because I wanted Kiddo to have the liner notes.)

So this non-stop barrage of Hamilton (and I don't mind at all — love it, too) made me think of albums I adored in my youth and played obsessively. For me, it was everything by the Beatles (even though they'd broken up before I was born), everything by Stephen Sondheim, and Prince, the Police, Michael Jackson, and Madonna (yes, I was an 80s girl).

Reds, when was the last time you were so captivated with an album that you played it over and over again? Was it Broadway, classical, rock, jazz, pop? And what was it exactly that made you obsessive? 

HALLIE EPHRON: First album I ever got hooked on: Tapestry. Carole King. I can still listen to it endlessly. It was the music and the lyrics and her voice. After that Brandenburg concertos and Mozart horn concertos and anything by Vivaldi. 

LUCY BURDETTE: We were fortunate to jump on the Hamilton bandwagon early and saw it last spring. I'm so amazed at the multiple talents of Lin-Manual Miranda. Who can write music, plays, and then perform as the lead? he's an astonishing man and of course we adored the show. If you haven't seen or heard it, look for the YouTube video of him performing an early version for President Obama... [Yes, see above.]

In general, this is how I listen to music--latch on to something I love and never let go. Bonnie Raitt's TAKIN MY TIME (crazy for the song GUILTY), Cat Stevens' TEASER AND THE FIRECAT (Moonshadow, oh my!), Teddy Thompson's UP FRONT AND DOWN LOW (She Thinks I Still Care), and all the early Beatles. And Patsy Cline.

RHYS BOWEN: The first albums that I listened to obsessively in my childhood were the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals: Carousel was the first (thanks to Hallie's parents who wrote the script). South Pacific, The King and I. I played them over and over. In college, it was Ella Fitzgerald.  And then the Beatles. Most recently it's been Les Miserables that I play every time I'm on a road trip.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I saw the Hamilton number on the Grammys and was entranced!  I can see how you could be hooked, Susan.

My favorite go-to album (for almost fifteen years now, ack) is the soundtrack from Love Actually. When I'm blue, when I'm happy, when I'm stuck on a stressful flight... Love it. I've had some weird album addictions in the past. The soundtrack from Kenneth Brannagh's Henry V. (Really, you're thinking?) The soundtrack from The English Patient. I could never bring myself to watch the movie a second time, but I LOVE the soundtrack. I even have Gemma playing a piece from it on the piano in one of the books.

HANK PHILIPPI RYAN: Such fun to do our history through
music! Of course I played Abbey Road over and over and over. Then Carole King's Tapestry. Then Judy Collins' Both Sides Now. I played Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter Songbook until the record was worn out. I spent months listening to A Chorus Line. A billion times. And A Little Night Music. Over and over. Evita! And Les Miserables.

Paul Simon's Graceland. And hilariously the soundtrack to Love Actually-- agreed Debs!-- and equally My Best Friends Wedding. Oh, and The Three Tenors, their first album.
Love reading all these! And I'm sure I've forgotten some...but I'd still be delighted to listen to any of these. And I completely forgot all the folk music! 
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Susan, Youngest is a total Hamiltonian as well. She's memorized two long numbers and can sing the rest with music. We're talking about trying to get tickets soon for her 16th birthday in August, although I understand the wait is so long she might be halfway to seventeen before we can actually see the show!
I was lucky; my mother loved musicals, so I had access to some wonderful original Broadway cast recordings - Camelot, Hair, Sound of Music, Man of La Mancha, as well as movie soundtracks from West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Damn Yankees, etc. etc. The first album I obsessed over was the Broadway cast recording for Jesus Christ, Superstar, which I listened to approximately 500 times. I honestly think I wore the record grooves out. There was something about the music that just captivated ten-year-old me.

 The next music I got hooked on was Simon and Garfunkel. I can remember hiding out in my bedroom at the age of thirteen, listening to the sad songs over and over and over again while scribbling out heart-breaking Starsky and Hutch fanfiction in my spiral binders. (There was always a character who was very much like me who was either Starsky's or Hutch's younger sister.) The next craze, when I was in my teens, was Grease, which I listened to SO often I can now not stand to hear a note of it.
That's been my progression as an adult - no matter how much I love a pop or country or Broadway tune, I'll get heartily sick of it if I hear it too many times. The only thing I can listen to over and over? Classical music and opera. Someday I'm going to take a long lazy vacation on a boat somewhere and listen to four different recordings of Turandot one after the other, just because I have the time. Bliss. 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Reds and lovely readers, what's the first album you remember playing obsessively? Do you still listen to it — or was it part of your youth? Please tell us in the comments!


  1. I saw the “Hamilton” cast on the Grammy awards; absolutely fantastic.

    My parents had several classical albums and that was mostly what we played at home. “The Planets” [Gustav Holst] was one of my early favorites. No matter how many times I listened to it, I loved every note.

    I always enjoyed show music and had an album from “The Sound of Music” that I played often enough that I knew all the words to all the songs. My Julie London albums got a lot of playing time [they still do, so I’ve had to replace several over the years].
    Others I enjoy these days include Il Divo and Jackie Evancho . . . .

  2. I didn't have albums until I was an adult. Anything by Bach, Cats - I saw this in Boston in 1984 and so I can "see" it again when the music is playing.

  3. James Taylor, Sweet Baby James, Tommy by the Who, Cat Stevens--anything he did, Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge over Troubled Water, Man of La Mancha, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Beatles, hmmm....what a trip down memory lane--and all music I still enjoy.

  4. I was dying to see Hamilton, now even moreso. And adding the Dixie Chicks to artists whose music I can listen to endlessly.

  5. Joan, The Sound of Music, me too! And I forgot to add CAMELOT and FUNNY GIRL. And FChurch, all those artists were my generation too!

    Hallie, you'd better go!!!

  6. It's funny, the description of Hamilton when it first came to Broadway left me cold - a hip-hop musical? I barely tolerate hip-hop when my kids are playing it in the car.

    But then I saw several videos of various numbers, and I thought - that looks fantastic! Hallie, I've been told if you want to buy the tickets from the box office instead of from scalpers, it's booking up to eleven months out! Of course, there's always the Ham4Ham lottery...

  7. Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord

  8. Okay, I just checked. The Hamilton box office is completely booked through the end of January 2017! There are, of course, "resale" tickets available - starting at $700. They are still running the $10 ticket lottery every day, however!

  9. You guys, Im sure after the Tony awards, there will be touring companies of Hamilton — not the same, but still.... It would be funny if this New York family went to Philly or Boston to finally see Hamilton love!

  10. I keep thinking about your question, Susan, about why. Why did those albums enrapture and enchant us? I wonder if my choices were about--succeeding, triumphing, battling fear and disappointment to get to a goal. Proving everything would work out in the end? The trials and persistence of the underdog. ANd now I realize I am talking about lyrics and story.

    Was it the lyrics or the music? I'd listen to the sound track of A Little Night Music and study the lyrics.

    Margaret is that the album that had--oh, I remember. My Moody Blues album was Days of Future Past. Loved it!

  11. Hank, I played Anne in A Little Night Music in college! I'd say it's about the dance of finding your true partner and faith that it will happen, despite setbacks. Plus the music is terrific. "A weekend in the country...."

  12. I want to say The Muppet Album, but in all seriousness West Side Story because I was obsessed with Gee, Officer Krupke as a child.

    That being said, I haven't listened to anything other than Hamilton for the past month.

  13. The very first album I ever bought with my own money - Cyndi Lauper's SHE'S SO UNUSUAL. I listened to it endless. My mother hated it. She hated anything recorded after the Beatles. So I'm sure teenage desire to assert myself had something to do with it.

    After that, it was Bon Jovi's SLIPPERY WHEN WET. My mother hated that one, too. Yes, I was an 80s child.

    These days I don't listen to anything endlessly, because it very much depends on my mood. Speaking of which, it's time to dig out my Jesus Christ Superstar album for a listen (even though I think something went awry when I ripped it to digital, because I swear I'm missing some tracks). I'm humming Herod's number as I type. =)

  14. The first album I listened to repeatedly was my parents' original cast recording of Man of La Mancha. (I know, right?)
    The second was also from my parents' collection: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream and Other Delights--first for their awesome recording of "A Taste of Honey," the legendary cover art was something of a bonus.

  15. Mary Sutton, Ron, and lmarchisotto — we're all of the same generation! I absolutely lived for Madonna's Like a Prayer — the whole album is fantastic -- when you only download the hit songs, you miss the sleepers and little jewels on the B sides of albums....

  16. Oh, so many. My Fair Lady, Camelot, A Knight's Tale, and believe it or not, the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid. I took the kids to see it, and I was so entranced with the music. But I also love the soundtrack to Shakespeare in Love, lush, gorgeous instrumental music.

    Fun fact: Hamilton won the Grammy for Best Musical Album. When the nominees were announced I kept seeing the choreographer listed in the information: Andy Blankenbeuhler, a Cincinnati native. With a little more investigation I found that Andy is the son of my high school (in Hamilton, Ohio) history teacher. Mr. B moved on after my class graduated, to a Cincinnati girls' school, and he was their theater advisor for decades.

  17. Yes Susan! I had all of Madonna's early albums, too.

    No surprise - Mom hated those. Are you sensing a theme here? LOL

  18. Oh, Susan! Is there a video??? I'd so love to see that!

    (It's insulting!
    It's engraved.)

    And you can see that you an read the lyrics of Now Later Soon either across or down. Sondheim loved/designed crossword puzzles, right?

    And I couldn't help I'm listening to it--and hearing Anne's back chatter as Frederic sings…so hilarious! I wish I could see you so it…

    As Hendrik says: It isn't gloomy, It's profound. xoxo

  19. Hank, I don't think there's a video -- this was back in Ye Darke Ages.... I was skinny and wore lots of white and pink frou-frou dresses. I didn't know that about Now Later Soon, but am not surprised -- now off to look it up... Still in touch with some of the cast and crew from MIT!

  20. The very first album that I listened to obsessively was Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. My middle school best friend and I would drop the needle back at the beginning as soon as it ended. I have never completely gotten over my love affair with Paul Simon.

    In high school I was smitten with Queen's A Night at the Opera, and the soundtrack to my college days was Steely Dan's Aja. My son went through a period of being in love with Jesus Christ Superstar, which I thoroughly enjoyed with him, and he introduced me to the musical Wicked, which became the soundtrack of our life for awhile.

    Now, the two albums that are the go-to choices in my life are Paul Simon's Graceland and one I doubt any of you have ever heard of: Claude Bolling and Jean-Pierre Rampal's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano. But I have crazy eclectic taste in music! I love it all.

  21. Susan, I used to have a recording of the Bolling/Rampal music. It was on a cassette tape, which I now have no way to play.

  22. Does anyone else out there love the Oscar Peterson Trio? I wrote a lot of papers in college with that on in the background....

  23. Karen in Ohio, if you use one of the music streaming services you might find the Bolling/Rampal album there. I use Spotify sometimes, and I know it has it, so I imagine it is probably available in Pandora and all the others as well.

  24. Susan, I found it on YouTube. Same wonderful stuff!

    But I'll see if I can add it to my Pandora feed, thanks for the reminder!

  25. I'm looking up the Oscar Peterson Trio and the Bolling/Rampal music. I love that we have such eclectic and interesting taste! I love many of the albums mentioned--except I have an 80s gap. I was in major mommy mode and the only thing I remember listening too obsessively was Michael Franks. Did anyone else like him? Very quirky, jazzy vocalist. So funny, I only discovered The Police two decades after the band split up and then bought every album they made and listened to them obsessively. Somewhere in that twenty years I was listening to a lot of opera.

    I did realize, thinking about Susan's question, how much I love movie composers. Patrick Doyle (Henry V) and Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) are only a couple of examples. I adore Hans Zimmer, and his score for The Holiday is another one I listen to over and over. And how could anyone not love John Williams? We have an Amazon Echo in our kitchen, and at least once a week I just say, "Alexa, play John Williams." Such fun.

  26. When I was young, it was all about the Broadway shows, vinyl records which I played over and over till I knew all the words--Sound of Music, West Side Story, and many more. Porgy and Bess was a later obsession--we even played "Bess, You Is My Womana Now" at our wedding. When the Beatles appeared, they took over. I was the right age to be totally absorbed in them.

    In college, there were many albums I played over and over--some folk songs, some heavy metal, just anything that caught my fancy. When I graduated, Tapestry was the first album I bought, and I played it forever.

    Back to Broadway shows--I first became acquainted with Lin-Manuel Miranda's genius when we vacationed in NYC (we live in CA) in 2008. I bought tickets to his Into the Heights because they were inexpensive (it was right after it transitioned to Broadway) and it sounded intriguing. Little did I know it would win a Tony Best Musical and that the Grammy-winning cast album would be in play in my car for two years! And now Hamilton--I want to see it so badly, but a trip to NYC is not in the cards for this year (unless I win one, and I'm trying!). In San Francisco they're already advertising season's tickets and saying it's the only way to ensure a ticket to Hamilton. It won't be the same without Lin, but I'm hoping season's tickets won't be necessary--they're quite expensive. I did buy the cast album on the day it was released and am playing it over and over in the car. I think it qualifies as my latest obsession, although I am also enjoying Josh Groban's album of show tunes.

  27. Like Lucy, I was on the HAMILTON bandwagon long before the madness, so I was able to secure a prime orchestra seat at just over $100. And yes, my friend did win the lottery and take me as well, so that is always a possibility for tickets.

    All that said, if folks really want to see the show, regardless of cast, at this point, the best option is to start planning a trip to Chicago, where the first production outside of NYC will occur. Since the current Broadway cast has not yet announced when they will start departing the production, chances of seeing that cast intact at this point are virtually non-existent. I suspect the first departures will be announced shortly after the Tony Awards and will likely occur in the Fall of 2016. The show is about so much more than the cast however, so I encourage everyone to think about Chicago - I know a trip there is in my future.

    As Susan said, a touring production will happen, but I fear it will not be until the end of 2017 or early 2018 unfortunately. Tickets in NYC should become more manageable as the original cast starts to depart, hopefully.

  28. I feel like I've had my head in the sand -- how have I missed the Hamilton phenom? The musical I remember getting obsessed about and listening to all the time as a kid was "A Chorus Line." I loved it so much. :-)

    I went through a strange Elton John phase -- listened to "Yellow Brick Road" endlessly even though I was way too young for the NC-17 lyrics. They seemed very naughty, which is probably why I was intrigued. Also, Bernie Taupin sure knew how to write stories through song lyrics!

  29. Debs, we listen to John Williams all the time, too! And I love the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings scores, as well. And I'm proud to say Kiddo has the Star Wars album ON VINYL! from Noel -- and a record player -- so we hear it quite often....

  30. LOVE the Bollling/Rampal! Whoa. Haven't thought of it for year.

    And yes,Debs, Michael Franks! Blast from the past. Fabulous.

    And I forgot Marat/Sade. Endlessly. AND--what was it? It had Marieke, and In the Port of Amsterdam..anyone, anyone?

    Shod we go into Peter PAul and MAry, and Chad Mitchell, and KingstonTrio? Gordon Lightfoot?

  31. "Album," the very name dates some of us. The first 45 rpm record (how's that for dating oneself) I obsessed over was "Love Me Tender," the voice - I didn't know it then - of Sex, a mystery but one that could capture every bit of my attention a hundred times over. Pity my poor kid sister who shared a bedroom with me but wasn't allowed to say a word when Elvis was singing, which was pretty much 24/7 for awhile. I was not even quite in my teens.

    How things change. I went through my West Side Story phase, my Hair phase, my Evita period, my Rolling Stones years (Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers) and have, miraculously, come to an era when Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutti, Phillip Glass's Song Trilogy, and a handful of streaming versions of classical string quartets keep me company.

    Someone here said that she couldn't listen to a few of her former favorites - that has happened to me too - over-saturation!

  32. I think I killed Sweet Baby James in college, and Tapestry, too! Funny this topic came up today. I am putting everything back into my living room today (after a refurbishment) and am listening to a mix of songs I put together as a Blackbird Sisters playlist years ago. Lots of Diana krall, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary a looney, Harry Connick, some Bette midler (Miss Otis Regrets!) and a little Lyle Lovett. That, and my very large Elvis collection. Eclectic, for sure.

  33. Oh Elvis ... I had so many records. Such a little girl with a big love of Elvis, for some reason. Remember the Elvis records sets that used to be advertised on T.V. all the time?

  34. The Sound of Music soundtrack and Purple Rain by Prince.

  35. I'm hoping that Lin is still playing Hamilton when I go in December.

  36. I have been obsessed with folk music since the early 60's. Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot, Kingston Trio have been played over and over and over, even wore out some vinyl. My first ever concert was to see The New Christy Minstrels, the summer of 1964. What an experience that I still remember with great joy. My favorite concert ever was when my best friend took me to see Judy Collins at Red Rocks Amphitheater for my 25th birthday. Oh man, that was a long time ago! I still listen to all those people every chance I get. And then I learn about some newer folk singers who really light my fire, like John Gorka. What a voice!

  37. Too much to even remember! My first 45 I remember buying was The Ballad of Davy Crockett. Went through at least 2 of those. Big brother and I would pool our money and buy albums: folk and movie soundtracks. Lawrence of Arabia, How the West Was Won, New Christy Minstrels, etc. I went through the show tunes phase. I will play more Les Miz than Phantom now; Evita rocks. Hamilton sounds really cool. Any show that has men in breeches. . . I have ODed on the Beatles, but still enjoy the Stones. And all those groups from the British Invasion: Herman's Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers, Dave Clark 5, and so on. And I like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Asleep at the Wheel, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Junior Brown. I like to play the Best of Queen and sing along in the car. Gosh. I could go on and on. Don't forget Janis Joplin.

  38. Yes! Light my fire. The Doors.

  39. I have fallen in love with Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda, even though I haven't seen the show on Broadway. The highlight of the Oscars was definitely the performance from Hamilton. I watch Lin-Manuel whenever I can catch him online. His performance with President Obama was great. I would love to see Hamilton on Broadway, but it's doubtful that will happen.

    Albums. Some of my first ones I played over and over were Carol King's Tapestry, Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Carly Simon's No Secrets, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Beatles' Let It Be, Bread's Baby I'm-a Want You, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, and The Grass Root's Greatest Hits. First single I ever bought was I Wanta Hold Your Hand by The Beatles. Albums for Musicals included Carousel, Sound of Music, Camelot, and West Side Story.

  40. My first obsession was an animated musical, Gay Purree, the story of an innocent young kitten who seeks the delights of the big city, only to fall into the paws of an evil couple who intend to auction her off to the highest bidder; charming children's story! The voices, however, were Judy Garland and Robert Goulet... possibly not their finest work, but enough to hook a 5-year-old!

    Now, I am determined to learn all the lyrics from Hamilton. I made the mistake of streaming it from Amazon Prime rather than downloading it and my husband couldn't figure out why we didn't have any data left on our shared plan during vacation last week. Oops. Did I bump up the data plan and sing along with some more Hamilton on the road trip? You betcha!

  41. Favorite ever: might be Carly SImon's Let The River RUn. What a great blog to day, Susan! xooo

  42. Oh Kathy Reel, Bread! I had totally forgotten about them. But in the 8-track era I only owned about three of them, so any time I drove I listened to the 8-tracks I happened to own: Bread, America, and the soundtrack to A Star is Born.

  43. Very late to this game. I love bits of Hamilton I've seen on various television shows, but there's not a snowball's chance I'll ever see it - many, many miles away.

    I'm trying to think of albums I'd listen to in their entirety, many years ago. Actually as soon as I got a good cassette recorder, I started making themed mix tapes.

    Hallie, I'm with you on Tapestry. F Church, I have most of the albums you mention, and those are the type I was most likely to play again and again in those days. My favorite Joni Mitchell LP was Blue, but I had most of the early ones, too.

    I know I played Bridge Over Troubled Water a lot - the release date was pushed back about 5 weeks, so we heard them perform the songs live at the end of November 1969 and couldn't get our hands on the LP until January 1970.

    Debs - I bought one Michael Franks LP - "The Art of Tea" (Google told me the name when I searched for "Popsicle Toes").

  44. My first fixations, many many years ago, were albums by the Clancy Brothers and the Tijuana Brass. More recently, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Joan Baez's Diamonds and Rust, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. More recently than that, just about anything by Benny Carter or Van Morrison. And soundtracks--yes! I have a playlist that includes three of my favorites: Much Ado, S&S, and Room with a View.

  45. Hank: I believe you're thinking of Judy Collins, who covered Jacques Brel's Marieke and songs from Marat/Sade. I was obsessed with Judy Collins; still am, I guess...

    The first album that I was obsessed with was Dusty Springfield's first (because my brother bought it), featuring "I Only Want to Be With You." It was in glorious monaural sound, since we were too poor to afford a stereo. As I got older I discovered other albums mentioned here and soundtracks (versus cast albums, never confuse the two) from "Oliver!" and "Man of La Mancha." But "Tapestry," "Good-bye Yellow Brick Road," and "Court and Spark" were certainly high school and college fascinations, topped by Boz Scaggs's "Silk Degrees," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," and Jackson Browne's "The Pretender." 1977 was maybe the high year of my music life...

  46. Okay, Jungle Red Ladies, I'm going to stretch the term "youth" a bit here and focus on the part that talks about playing an LP/CD obsessively. For me it was The Stones album that had "Paint It Black" on it, Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" LP, and Def Leppard's "Hysteria. Okay, I admit it. I'm Hard Rock - maybe even a bit Metal. But I hurriedly add that I also LOVE the original B'way scores from "Chicago" and "The Wiz".