This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #75: Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton.
As regular followers of this countdown know, every 25th song in the list goes to one of my two daughters so that the entire 500-song list isn’t completely filled with “old songs for old people”. Which brings us to today’s song from my eldest daughter, Leah. It is a hip and happening song called, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down), which is about the end of the American Revolution. What keeps this new song from feeling old is that it is from the mega-hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton”. If you are familiar, at all, with the musical, “Hamilton” then, you know that it is a re-telling of the life of an important figure in the story of US independence named Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s life story is told in a Hip Hop style as written by one of the hottest actors and playwrights alive today, Lin Manuel Miranda. It is because of Miranda’s modern take on the birth of his nation that supplies a story of the American Revolution with such energy and vitality. It is, also, part of what attracted by History-loving daughter to the play and to the story of Alexander Hamilton in the first place, as you shall soon see.
First things first, I always approach each quarter mark in the countdown by interviewing each of my daughters as to why they liked that day’s particular song so much that it made their own personal Top Ten list. For Leah, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) is song #2 on her list. When I asked Leah about it, she came alive with enthusiasm and energy. You see, my daughter, Leah, loves History and music and storytelling so, the story being told throughout the musical, “Hamilton” combines all three of her passions. Leah can be a quiet person in real life but, when I mentioned this song, she immediately launched into singing the Hip Hop-infused lyrics and got them all right off of the top of her head without missing a single beat. For her, the real accomplishment that Lin Manuel Miranda has achieved with “Hamilton” is that he has brought History to the masses in a way that is painstakingly-accurate but, also, completely enjoyable and entertaining, at the same time. Far too often in her young life, she has been unable to share her love of History with anyone she knows because most teens find the subject of history to be “boring”. That is too bad because, as Leah and I both know, History is storytelling. It is real events that were experienced by real people. Good History is the result of good storytelling.
So, when Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the song, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”, he didn’t just describe a battle, using dates, times and the names of who was involved. Instead, he told a complete story that touched upon the joy he felt at having his first field command, how nervous he was to survive the battle because his wife was pregnant with his child, how he crafted a strategy of approaching the British at night without any gun powder in their guns (so as to avoid an accidental flash of ignition causing the British to be alerted to their presence), how the Battle of Yorktown impacted France and how, when the British eventually retreated, they were forced to play a song called, “The World Turned Upside Down” in shame as they left America for the final time.
In a traditional History class, that story would have been told from a fact-oriented point of view. The telling of the story that way would, in all likelihood, be boring. Guilty as charged. But, in Lin Manuel Miranda’s capable hands, the story of The Battle of Yorktown, which was the final major battle of The American Revolution, is told in a four-minute, dance-oriented, song-filled manner that touches upon the facts but, also, the human emotions involved and the impact that this battle had on all of their lives. It is the exact opposite of boring. To Leah, it is electrifying! It is History come to life, right before her eyes, on stage. It is exhilarating. It is powerful. It is how History feels to her when she reads about it in her own mind. It is how we should all view the stories of our past, that act as the foundations of our present world. It is Leah’s second-most favourite song for a reason. Thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda for making History feel important and, dare I say, even sexy.
So, the video for this song comes from a performance of the song given at the Grammy Awards. *One bit of trivia to note: in the course of all of the singing and dancing that goes on during this song, the actors make use of prop muskets. However, this particular performance happened a day or so after a school shooting in the US so, Miranda thought it would be in poor taste to bring firearms on to such a stage at such a time. So, as the actors speak of attacking without gun powder in their muskets, they will not have their usual prop muskets in their hands. Just so ya know. As you watch this video, note how dense the lyrics are. They are packed with so much information yet, it all flows out of their mouths with ease and flair. Leah can sing each line verbatim and enunciate it all, as if she is right there with them on that stage. My little girl is growing up to be a wonderfully-intelligent, vibrant presence. She is a lover of History and, ever-increasingly, a singer of songs and someone who is warming up to the idea of being on stage. For those of us who are introverted book nerds, she is a real hero. Carry on, Leah. I couldn’t be prouder if I tried.
So, without further delay, here is the cast of “Hamilton” with the story of The battle of Yorktown from the Revolutionary War, as told at The Grammys, through the song, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” by the cast of “Hamilton”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for the musical, “Hamilton”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Lin Manual Miranda, can be found here.