BWW Exclusive: The 101 Greatest SHOW TUNES from 1920-2020

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BWW Exclusive: The 101 Greatest SHOW TUNES from 1920-2020BWW Exclusive: The 101 Greatest SHOW TUNES from 1920-2020

How do we make a list of the 101 greatest show tunes from the past 100 years without bias? That's certainly a near-impossible mountain to climb, because even some forms of biases, knowledgeable judgments, are key when doing a task like this. But we need to make it as objective as possible when dealing with something so subjective. Hence, the following rubric, the 10 points when picking the best of the best Broadway and Off-Broadway songs...

  1. Artistic Merit: Music. [10 points]
  2. Artistic Merit: Lyrics. [10 points]
  3. Characterization: What separates a musical theatre song from a pop song or standard? How does it fit the character that is singing it? [10 points]
  4. Critical recognition. Formal commendation from critics. [10 points]
  5. Overall popularity. Can anyone who knows musical theatre sing the melody or quote the lyrics? [10 points]
  6. Popular recognition outside the theatre. Is the song known to people outside of the musical theatre genre? Did a version of it hit the Billboard charts? [10 points]
  7. Popularity over time. Has the song lasted for more than a generation, or will it potentially? [10 points]
  8. Innovation. A song's impact through innovation and groundbreaking achievement. [10 points]
  9. Historical & Cultural significance. A song's mark on society in matters of style, substance and historical importance. [10 points]
  10. Overall Effect Within Confines of the Show: How well does the song fit into its show and drive the action of the plot as well as help us understand the characters' hopes and dreams? [10 points]

But every choice, even with a grading scale, is open for some kind of subjectivity; I'm not HAL-9000. This is where fairness and honesty must come in. I found myself shocked at some of the scores and selections, such as the song "Oklahoma." I never would have put it near the top on the list, but it scored exceedingly high, mainly hitting all the key components on the scale (both artistic and historic). In the case of a tie, I allow myself subjectivity in selecting the proper order.

Younger theatre goers may feel alienated by such an undertaking because, although there are plenty of choices from recent shows, so many of the tunes on the list come from decades past (the earliest selection is from 1926; the most recent from 2018). Also, for those unfamiliar with some of these picks, this is as good a time as any to catch up and hear the very best that musical theatre has to offer.

PLEASE NOTE: Included are songs written for the stage, performed on Broadway or Off-Broadway. Operatic concept albums (that would be later staged) and light operas from 1920-2020 are admissible, but songs originally written for films are not. So, there's no 42nd Street. No Disney mega-hits. No Rodgers & Hammerstein's State Fair (written for the movies) or Cinderella (originally produced for TV). No jukebox musicals based on pop standards (sorry all of you Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys fans). In a show like The Producers, the songs written for the stage are acceptable (like "Betrayed" or "Keep It Gay"), but "Springtime for Hitler," written for the movie, is not.

BY THE NUMBERS: Three musicals have four songs each on the list: West Side Story, The Sound of Music and Les Miserables. There are also a handful of musicals with three songs: Guys and Dolls, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, and Rent. But then there's the flip side, classic shows that don't have any songs in the 101, like Brigadoon, 1776, Next to Normal, the Drowsy Chaperone, Avenue Q, Into the Woods, Assassins and Fun Home. Perhaps these shows are so integrated that a single song can't emerge from any of them (though I thought "Almost Like Being in Love" from Brigadoon, "I'm Alive" from Next to Normal, "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods or "Ring of Keys" from Fun Home might stand a chance). And for the record, "Run Freedom Run" from Urinetown was the number that just missed the cut at #102.

Stephen Sondheim leads the crowd of composers and lyricists with 16 selections, with Rodgers & Hammerstein in second place with 14 songs represented (together and apart). That means that nearly one in every three songs in the 101 have either Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers or Oscar Hammerstein associated with it.

So...here is the list, to take your mind off of these troubled times. Be prepared to discuss and debate; you might find yourself disagreeing with the selections or the order. But that's what a list like this should do--start a conversation; that's what makes an exercise like this so much fun. Enjoy!

THE TOP MUSICAL THEATRE SONGS FROM 1920-2020

1. CABARET

[Cabaret; 1966; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb]

Cabaret is one of the most groundbreaking shows in musical theatre history, opening the doors for darker themed musicals (like Chicago, Sweeney Todd or Hadestown). The title song has become a staple of its own, working as a jumbo hit outside of the show as well as being an intricate part of the musical's Act 2. Although linked with Liza Minnelli's rafter-shaking performance, the song also works as a more somber character piece within the show (it's the moment that Sally Bowles decides to get an abortion). Since it scores so high in every category--artistic, critical, popularity and importance--it really shouldn't be such a shocker to anyone that this overwhelmingly ranked as the #1 musical theatre song of all time. OVERALL SCORE: 96.2.

2. OKLAHOMA!

[Oklahoma!; 1943; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

For all of you moaning that this title tune scored way too high on the chart, ask yourself this question: When you hear the word "Oklahoma," do you think of the state or the musical? And if you have to say that state name aloud, do you find yourself unapologetically singing the word at full volume with so much gusto, no matter where you are? Thought so. OVERALL SCORE: 95.0

3. THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

[Man of La Mancha; 1965; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Dale Wasserman]

This is what we think of when we think of classic Broadway songs. But it has everything you want in a show tune--a slow build that drives until its final stunning moments that leave listeners breathless. It works beautifully in the confines of the show, but is an anthem for all the dreamers of the world as well. No wonder it's proven so popular outside of the musical theatre world with versions performed by the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Jim Nabors, Cher, Roberta Flack, Il Divo, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andy Williams, Luther Vandross, Liberace, and Diana Ross and The Supremes. OVERALL SCORE: 94.6

4. BEING ALIVE

[Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

It's Bobby's moment of truth at the end of Company, and it turns into perhaps Sondheim's most emotional wallop of a song. Sometimes people have issues with the character of Bobby--he's a cypher of sorts, reactive and always on the outside of the action--but that's the point. He's a single soul lost amid his married friends. This song puts him smack-dab in the center of the world, no longer on the emotional outskirts, where he discovers his purpose: To find another to share his life. "But alone is alone," he sings, "not alive." It's an epiphany, and the song jolts the character to life, to hopeful action, and we--the audience--can't help but feel that electricity. OVERALL SCORE: 94.4

5. OL' MAN RIVER

[Showboat; 1927; music by Jerome Kern; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

December 27, 1927. That's a key date in musical theatre history, when Showboat premiered and this song, as important as any song on this list, was introduced, first sung by Jules Bledsoe and later made famous by Paul Robeson. "Here we all work while the white folk play," the character Joe sings. "Pulling them boats from dawn till sunset/Getting no rest till Judgment Day." The song is so much a part of Showboat that it is reprised a whopping four times throughout it. Even if it didn't deal with race and social class, "Ol' Man River" would still be mighty important, since it features a lyrical pentatonic-scale melody and rare bass solo. Forget Frank Sinatra's toothless version of it, but make sure to hear The Temptations' take, where they turn the phrase "white man boss" into "rich man boss." OVERALL SCORE: 93.6

6. SUMMERTIME

[Porgy and Bess; 1935; music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin & DuBose Heyward]

They say that there are over 25,000 versions of this Gershwin classic, from Billie Holiday to Fantasia, from Janis Joplin to Willie Nelson, from Ricky Nelson to Fun Boy Three. The music is some of Gershwin's finest, although the show was only lukewarmly received by the high-brow music critics of the time. (Porgy and Bess would get the last laugh, when it was chosen to be the first opera by an American composer to be performed at Milan's La Scala.) As for the evocative lyrics, they earned the highest praise from the great Stephen Sondheim, calling them "the best." OVERALL SCORE: 93.2

7. EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES

[Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

8. I AM WHAT I AM

[La Cage Aux Folles; 1983; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman]

9. AND I'M TELLING YOU I'M NOT GOING

[Dreamgirls; 1981; music by Henry Krieger; lyrics by Tom Eyen]

10, ONE DAY MORE

[Les Miserables; 1985; music by Claude- Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Alain Boublil]

There's something powerful about end-of-Act 1 anthems that catapult audiences into Intermission with excited chills and gooseflesh. And numbers 7, 8, 9 and especially 10 on the list are the best of these Act 1 enders.

All of the best musical theatre songs have a certain drive, and the terrific "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy galvanizes pure optimism. It's the last song of Act 1 of one of the greatest of all musicals (if not the greatest), and it's so upbeat, so full of pushy goodwill, that you can't help but feel swell after hearing it. Who sings it better, Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone? Let's call it a draw and enjoy both divas, both forces of nature. OVERALL SCORE: 93.0

Jerry Herman passed away last year, leaving one of musical theatre's great legacies. You would think that his song "Hello, Dolly" would be the highest on this list (it's certainly his most popular song), but it doesn't carry the cultural importance or weight of "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles, one of the strongest gay anthems ever written. And yes, even though icons like disco's Gloria Gaynor and Shirley Bassey would make it part of their set list, it's the song within the confines of the actual show that means the most: Albin's defiant stand at the end of Act 1. OVERALL SCORE: 92.8

"And I'm Telling You That I'm Not Going" has become iconic, the ultimate belting Broadway classic. It's another Act 1-closing force, Effie's torchy moment of defiance and Dreamgirls' big number that made a star out of two Jennifers--Holliday and Hudson. Although, to be fair, it's not actually the last song of Act 1; that would be the new Dreams' "Love Love Me Baby." But after the gospel explosions of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," especially in the hands of Jennifer Holliday or Jennifer Hudson, no one would remember anything that follows such greatness. OVERALL SCORE: 92.0

Even though it scored somewhat less than the other Act 1 closing anthems that make up the last positions of the Top 10, "One Day More" may be the best of them all. Although influenced by Evita's "A New Argentina," it takes it a few steps further in Les Miserables by adding key plot points: Jean Valjean having to change locations in an emergency; Marius choosing to fight with his comrades over love; Cosette and Eponine yearning for the same man; Javert infiltrating the barricading students as a spy; the Thernadier's gleefully anticipating robbing corpses-to-be; and the doomed revolutionary students, red flag unfurled, ready to finally create the barricade and fight the good (or sadly not-so-good) fight. All of this in a whirlwind 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Wow. OVERALL SCORE: 91.4

11. MY SHOT

[Hamilton; 2015; music & lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda]

Hyperbole duly noted, what "Song of Myself" is to Leaves of Grass or the Creation of Man is to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, "My Shot" is to Hamilton. It's the show's centerpiece, a hip-hop masterpiece, taking its creator a full year to write. Groundbreaking, with the ferocity of its Eminem vibe, it's probably the coolest song to make any musical theatre list. OVERALL SCORE: 91.3

12. YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE

[Carousel; 1945; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

You will notice that "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music is not on this list. That is because Rodgers and Hammerstein did it earlier and better with this glorious Carousel number. If we had to choose between one of the two, then this is it. "You'll Never Walk Alone" works powerfully within the context of the musical, when Julie needs comforting after Billy Bigelow's death, but also has become an anthem for the world. It's been covered by a diverse group that includes Judy Garland, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Olivia Newton-John, Gerry and the Pacemakers and even inspiring Pink Floyd with their "Fearless." And never forget the moment in 2001, in honor of those who had perished in 9/11, when Barbra Streisand sang this to a mourning nation at the end of the Emmy Award telecast. Is there a more moving lyric (sung at many churches) than those rousing Hammerstein-scribed lines: "Walk on, walk on/With hope in your heart/And you'll never walk alone...". OVERALL SCORE: 91.2

13. MARIA.

[West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

It seems so deceptively simple. Ex-gang member Tony meets the rival gang leader's sister, Maria, at a dance in a gym, falls in instant love and learns her name for the first time. And the song that follows, where he compares the sound of her name to a prayer, is rapturous, like he's floating in a dream as he walks the city streets. And how many times does he mention the girl's name in the song? 29! Talk about obsessive. OVERALL SCORE: 90.5

14. CAMELOT

[Camelot; 1960; music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner]

The top Lerner & Loewe number on the list, it's perhaps known more for its historical connotations than for its artistry. You probably already know that the song "Camelot" has long been associated with John F. Kennedy's years in the White House. But it was Jackie Kennedy who, after her husband's fateful end, made it epitomize the Kennedy administration, later to be tagged as the "Camelot Years." In the week following the President's assassination, she admitted that it was her husband's favorite musical and he would listen to it night after night. After the tragedy of November 22, 1963, the lyrics of the title tune brought on a newer, deeper, sadder meaning: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/That was known as Camelot!" OVERALL SCORE: 90.2

15. SEND IN THE CLOWNS

[A Little Night Music; 1973; music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Some consider this Sondheim's finest song, even more than "Being Alive" (#4). It's certainly his most popular, charting twice on the Billboard Hot 100 for Judy Collins (in 1975 and 1977). The Collins' version even won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1976. For more modern audiences, it reared its head with a particularly creepy version in the 2019 movie Joker. But it works best in the context of A Little Night Music, sung in the middle of Act 2 by Desiree to Fredrik. And how long did it take Sondheim to compose this eternal masterpiece? One night. There's a reason why they label Sondheim "The Genius." OVERALL SCORE: 90.1

16. DON'T RAIN ON MY PARADE

[Funny Girl; 1963; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Bob Merrill]

Another Act 1 powerful closer, where Fanny Brice is determined to marry the problematic Nick. But it proves so popular beyond the show, closely tied to the belters of the world, mainly Barbra Streisand (Broadway's original Fanny Brice). You hear of songs that have a "drive," that seem to accelerate forward; is there any song on this list with more "drive" than this musical locomotive? OVERALL SCORE: 90.0

17. ANYTHING YOU CAN DO

[Annie Get Your Gun; 1946; music & lyrics by Irving Berlin]

The greatest duet in musical theatre. If you notice, most of the songs in the top portion of the list are solo staples for divas and heroes, historically important title tunes or strong ensemble numbers. But for a true duet, it gets no better than this beloved Act 2 competition between Annie Oakley and Frank E. Butler. OVERALL SCORE: 89.8

18. ANYTHING GOES

[Anything Goes; 1934; music & lyrics by Cole Porter]

This Cole Porter classic spotlights a decades-defining diva from a different age of musical theatre: Ethel Merman in the 1930's; Patti LuPone in the 1980's; and Sutton Foster during the 2010's. Not to mention a memorable duet between Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. All these divas, one classic song that's fun, thrilling, alive, and just as toe-tapping wonderful as when first released. OVERALL SCORE: 89.5

19. THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS

[Annie Get Your Gun; 1946; music & lyrics by Irving Berlin]

The ultimate theatre song, an anthem that captures the spirit of performers, their resiliency: "You get word before the show has started that your favorite uncle died at dawn/Top of that, your pa and ma have parted, you're broken-hearted, but you go on..." This would have ranked higher, certainly Top 10 on this list, but in the context of Annie Get Your Gun, it's sort of a throwaway, where the song is great but Berlin and writers Dorothy and Herbert Fields have to find a reason plot-wise to include it. So, in the show, Frank Butler, Charlie Davenport and Buffalo Bill describe show business to relative newcomer Annie Oakley with this marvelous ode. But it's such a good number that it overrides any misgivings that we may have for it being shoved in the show for no other reason than it being an obviously great song. OVERALL SCORE: 89.3

20. IF I WERE A RICH MAN

[Fiddler on the Roof; 1964; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick]

Written in a Jewish klezmer style, this joyous, boisterous comical plea to God and the universe follows the hopes and dreams of Tevye the milkman. Who hasn't prayed for wealth, or at least wondered what life would be like if you won the lottery? Harnick's lyrics, so brilliant, capture this to a tee, where Teyve asks such existential questions as, "Lord who made the lion and the lamb/You decreed I should be what I am/Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan/If I were a wealthy man?" OVERALL SCORE: 89.2

21. SOME ENCHANTED EVENING

[South Pacific; 1949; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

Perhaps the finest pure love song on the list. In the show, set in World war 2, South Pacific plantation owner Emile de Becque sings this to the American, Nellie Forbush. (It's such a lush song, and when you get a proper Emile to croon it--like opera star Ezio Pinza in the original Broadway version--then it puts you in an almost hypnotic state to fall in love, whether you want to or not.) Outside of the theatre, so many non-opera types have taken a stab at this classic love tune, from Jay and the Americans to Bob Dylan, from Harrison Ford in 1973's American Graffiti to Bert swooning over Connie Stevens in a 1977 episode of The Muppet Show. Talk about a diverse array of talent tackling musical theatre's loveliest love anthem! OVERALL SCORE: 89.0

22. HELLO DOLLY

[Hello Dolly; 1963; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman]

You might have expected this show-stopper to rank even higher on the list. Is there a more famous or iconic musical theatre song? Also, Louis Armstrong had a #1 hit with it, temporarily halting the Beatles' 1964 run up the Billboard charts. So why is it at #22 instead of in the Top 10, perhaps even at #1? The late great Hal Prince would know the answer. When asked to direct Hello, Dolly, he had major qualms with the 10+ minute pageantry of the central song. "They played me this title song," he once stated. "And I said, 'This is for a scene where a woman who doesn't go out visits a restaurant?'" It didn't make sense in the confines of the show, so he opted to direct the smaller, nearly perfect She Loves Me instead. Hello, Dolly, with its infectious bigger-than-big, overdone-and-then-some title song, played forever and made lots and lots of money. She Loves Me lasted only 302 performances. But Prince wasn't wrong. OVERALL SCORE: 88.8

23. SHE USED TO BE MINE

[Waitress: The Musical; 2016; music & lyrics by Sara Bareilles]

This beautiful lament is guaranteed to be a Broadway standard for years to come, hence its high placement on this chart. Charles Isherwood, in his review for The New York Times, called the song not just the high point of Waitress, but the high point of the entire Broadway season. OVERALL SCORE: 88.8

24. MY FAVORITE THINGS

[The Sound of Music; 1959; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

Perhaps The Sound of Music's most adored song, it contains some of Hammerstein's most heartfelt lyrics: "Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes/Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes/Silver-white winters that melt into springs/These are a few of my favorite things..." That said, this is one instance where I prefer the movie's treatment (Maria and the kids singing it to get their minds off a thunderstorm) to the stage's (a Mother Abbess and Maria duet). OVERALL SCORE: 88.7

25. SEASONS OF LOVE

[Rent; 1996; music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson]

26. LOSING MY MIND

[Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Although the late Jonathan Larson intended "Seasons of Love" to be sung at Angel's funeral, it works even better where it would eventually end up: The entire cast gathered onstage at the top of Act 2, standing in a straight line, singing this meaningful appeal of making the most of our short time on earth. Is this the most beloved musical theatre song of the past 25 years? Find a theatre student anywhere who doesn't know it by the first few moments of the ostinato piano motif and who can't sing along with the famous "five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes" opening. Even those hapless non-musical souls (Lord, help them) can sing along to this one. OVERALL SCORE: 88.6

Where "Seasons of Love" deals with an entire year, Stephen Sondheim's yearning, haunting "Losing My Mind" subtly deals with a single day: from "the sun comes up," to "the morning ends," to "all afternoon," ending with "sleepless nights." Near the end of Follies, Dorothy, a former showgirl, is obsessed with the politician Ben, and this is her big torch song moment: "All afternoon, doing every little chore/The thought of you stays bright/Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor/Not going left/Not going right..." Liza Minnelli's odd Pet Shop Boys version of this scored a Top-10 hit in the UK. OVERALL SCORE: 88.4

27. I DREAMED A DREAM

[Les Miserables; 1985; music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Alain Boublil]

This one, so powerful and heartbreaking in the context of the show (Fantine's downward spiral), has blossomed throughout pop culture, from Aretha Franklin's version at Bill Clinton's inauguration to Susan Boyle's dramatic turn on Britain's Got Talent. OVERALL SCORE: 88.0

28. EDELWEISS

[The Sound of Music; 1959; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

The last song Oscar Hammerstein ever wrote before his death in 1960, and what a glorious and simple work to end his illustrious career! Sung by Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, is there a more haunting song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein's songbook, or a more popular one? Unfortunately, it proved so popular that people erroneously believe "Edelweiss" to be the official National Anthem of Austria. Sorry, but that honor goes to "Land der Berge, Land am Strome," which translates as "Land of mountains, land by the River," a song that may have an elevated position to Austrians but can't hold a candle to the gentle beauty of "Edelweiss"--Hammerstein's breathtaking last stand. OVERALL SCORE: 88.0

29. SOMEWHERE

[West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

The current Ivo van Hove WWS revival is too tattoo-cool to rely on what made this one of the great theatre songs: The "Somewhere" ballet. This dream ballet, where Tony and Maria find a Utopian "place for us," turns into a nightmare of remembrance and makes this a truly theatrical piece. If you watched the 1961 Oscar-winning movie, you would never know how remarkable this song is. (Like the current revival, they also cut the ballet.) Its many covers-by The Supremes, Phil Collins, the Pet Shop Boys, and especially Barbra Streisand and her 80's-synth New Age version--helped turn this into one of musical theatre's more iconic songs. OVERALL SCORE: 88.0

30. OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING

[Oklahoma!; 1943; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

It can be said that when Curly first croons this exuberant, optimistic opening number of Oklahoma, the Golden Age of Musicals officially began. OVERALL SCORE: 87.9

31. MEMORY

[Cats; 1981; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by TS Eliot & Trevor Nunn]

Some people, especially the MTS (Musical Theatre Snobs), may be out of sorts that Andrew Lloyd Webber is anywhere in the 101. But to not include him would take away a major musical theatre force, especially his output in the 1970's and 1980's. He has five songs on this list, and this is by far the biggest of them all. When he first played it for his composer-father, afraid of plagiarism, he asked, "Does this sound like anything to you?" His father smiled and said, "Yes. It sounds like five million dollars!" OVERALL SCORE: 87.8

32. SIT DOWN, YOU'RE ROCKING THE BOAT

[Guys & Dolls; 1950; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser]

Gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson's gospel-fueled vision of repentance in the Save-a-Soul Mission is one of the greatest 11 O'clock numbers of all time. OVERALL SCORE: 87.6

33. ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE

[My Fair Lady; 1956; music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner]

Freddy sings longingly of his infatuation with former flower girl, Eliza. It's sort of like an upper-class, nose-in-the-air version of West Side Story's "Maria" (notice how Lerner rhymes "rather" with "bother" for a true blue-blood effect). OVERALL SCORE: 87.6

34. TONIGHT QUINTET

[West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

As good as it gets, a classic ensemble that unites all aspects of West Side Story in plot and song (the Jets and Sharks sing about an upcoming rumble, while Anita pines for her lover to return and Tony and Maria croon about their future evening together). Musicologist Will Crutchield wasn't joking when he claimed, in a review for The New York Times, "I can see no reason why the 'Tonight' ensemble should not be compared to the quartet from Rigoletto." That's mighty high cotton. OVERALL SCORE: 87.6

35. WHAT I DID FOR LOVE

[A Chorus Line; 1975; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban]

Up there with "There's No Business Like Show Business" as the most insightful look at show biz and the sacrifices it takes to do what most people can only dream about. OVERALL SCORE: 87.5

36. A LITTLE PRIEST

[Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Some of Sondheim's most delectably macabre lyrics and the greatest song ever written about grinding people into meat pies. OVERALL SCORE: 87.3

37. SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME

[Oh! Kay; 1926; music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin]

This classic of classics, a Gershwin great, has entered our culture through various cover versions (Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Rickie Lee Jones) and its use in TV shows from Star Trek to My Little Pony. The only questionable issue with the famous song is the use of it in the context of the show itself (the forgotten Oh! Kay), where the title character sings this beloved ballad to a rag doll. OVERALL SCORE: 87.0

38. DON'T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA

[Evita; 1978; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Tim Rice]

An anthem for a South American country, the centerpiece of Evita, first heard near the show's beginning at Eva Peron's funeral and then given the big Act 2 I-am-a-goddess treatment, where Eva gets to belt her love for her adoring descamisados. Julie Covington took it to #1 in the UK, but make sure to seek out cover versions by The Carpenters, Sinead O'Connor and a punk rendition by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes that must be experienced at least once in your lifetime. OVERALL SCORE: 86.2

39. I'M STILL HERE

[Follies; 1971; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

In this bluesy list song, Sondheim's psalm of survival, Carlotta Campion lays out a litany of historic events that she lived through, such as Amos and Andy, Windsor and Wallis, the Dionne babies, and the two Hoovers-J. Edgar and Herbert. Although Yvonne DeCarlo did a marvelous job in the original Broadway cast, perhaps Elaine Stritch performed the ultimate version (astutely claiming that no one under 80 should even go near the song). OVERALL SCORE: 86.2

40. 96,000

[In the Heights; 2007; music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda]

Pulsating with life and hip-hop adrenaline, the dreams of winning the lottery, a beat-filled reverie that we all share with the denizens of Washington Heights, never sounded so good. OVERALL SCORE: 86.0

41. WILKOMMEN

[Cabaret; 1966; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb]

Cabaret is ultimately the Emcee's show, and this memorable opening number featuring his introduction to the ragged girls and guys of the Kit Kat Club is his charismatic invitation for us to enter hell. No matter who plays the part (Joel Grey, Jonathan Pryce, Alan Cumming, John Stamos, or Neil Patrick Harris), the Master of Ceremonies is so infectiously delightful to watch and to listen to, so devilish in his painted-faced charm, how can we turn him down? OVERALL SCORE: 85.9

42. DEFYING GRAVITY

[Wicked; 2002; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz]

Another catchy and powerful Act 1 closer, where Elphaba finds her inner-strength and defiantly levitates on her broom, over the citizens of Oz and the Wizard's guards. It's wow-worthy both onstage and in song, and in the context of the show, guarantees that you will eagerly return for Act 2. OVERALL SCORE: 85.8

43. AMERICA

[West Side Story; 1957; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

44. YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT

[South Pacific; 1949; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

Sometimes musical theatre works best when it deals with tough subjects, like prejudice. These two songs face discrimination and bigotry head on in their own ways, one riddled with humor and big dance breaks while the other is a serious examination into the underlying causes of this problem.

West Side Story's "America" turns into a debate song between Puerto Ricans who yearn for life back home because the USA is for white people instead of the "PR's" versus those integrated in the American way. In the original musical, it's the Shark girls who are in the midst of the argument, but the movie as well as the recent Broadway updating correctly have the Shark girls (led by Anita) versus the Shark boys (led by Bernardo) trading barbs in the midst of the entertaining feud. Similar to the "Habanera" in Bizet's Carmen, Bernstein's driving music has never been more effective. OVERALL SCORE: 85.0

In South Pacific's "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," Lt. Cable describes why society chooses to hate the "otherness" of people: "You've got to be taught/To be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a different shade/You've got to be carefully taught..." Abhorrent prejudice and the need for tolerance were always subjects near and dear to the heart of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, who also happened to be the mentor of "America's" young lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. OVERALL SCORE: 85.0

45. ALL THAT JAZZ

[Chicago; 1975; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb]

Chicago has become Bob Fosse's immortality, especially with having the longest running revival long after his death. And Kander and Ebb turned out to be the ideal songwriters for Fosse's darker vision of the world. "All That Jazz," Chicago's ribald opener, reeks of Fosse in all of the best ways-cynical, sly, cheeky, sexy, violent, and full of the seedy side of life. It's a Fosse wet dream. OVERALL SCORE: 84.6

46. DO-RE-MI

[The Sound of Music; 1959; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

47. ROSE'S TURN

[Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

1959 was a key year for musical theatre, as showcased with these two extraordinarily different songs. In "Do-Re-Mi," Maria teaches the Von Trapp children--and the world--how to sing with one of the more infectious songs in the history of musical theatre. OVERALL SCORE: 84.6. And in Gypsy, Mama Rose gets her moment in the spotlight with the show-stopper, "Rose's Turn," the opposite of Sound of Music sweetness (Maria and the Von Trapps bond with "Do-Re-Mi" while Mama Rose comes apart due to her "ungrateful" children). Bette Midler was right when she called it "a terrifying piece of music." If Mama Rose took over the Von Trapp household, she would change the title of their cutesy song to "DON'T-Re-Mi." OVERALL SCORE: 84.6

48. CELL BLOCK TANGO

[Chicago; 1975; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb]

"Pop...Six...Squish...Uh uh...Cicero...Lipschitz..." The women's annex of the Cook County Jail comes alive in Chicago with this, one of the most entertaining songs in musical theatre history. I hope you could see Professor Pyg's version of this in Gotham (retitled "Meat Pie Tango"). OVERALL SCORE: 84.6

49. PRETTY WOMEN

[Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; 1979; music and lyrics

by Stephen Sondheim]

Leave it to Sondheim to take one of his loveliest songs and turn it into a duet between a barber and a judge that may lead to a very bloody throat-slitting. Simply to die for. OVERALL SCORE: 84.6

50. TOMORROW

[Annie; 1977; music by Charles Strouse; lyrics by Martin Charnin]

Annie's optimist ode to the future, sugary sweet and the bane for all of us who audition children and have heard this murdered by well-meaning kiddos hopelessly shrieking the orphan's hopeful words at the top of their little lungs. OVERALL SCORE: 84.4

51. IF I LOVED YOU

[Carousel; 1945; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

52. SHALL WE DANCE

[The King and I; 1951; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

The partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein would become the most significant artistic force in musical theatre history; starting in 1943, they changed everything. And here are two of their most delightful duets. "If I Loved You," Billy and Julie's heart-tugging duet and the soul of Carousel, was made even more famous with cover versions by the likes of Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. OVERALL SCORE: 84.0. In "Shall We Dance," The King and I's key Act 2 number, Anna shows the King of Siam a formal dance, and we feel their connection in this moment, their secret passion for each other, a love that dare not be uttered aloud or overtly shown. It is this reason that this particular song, more than the more famous "Getting to Know You," was chosen from this show. It's what Rodgers and Hammerstein did best: Enchanting music, joyous and meaningful lyrics, together helping move the plot and the characters forward. OVERALL SCORE: 84.0

53. MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER

[Fiddler on the Roof; 1964; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick]

Let this vibrant ode to love-seeking get stuck in your head, and Bock's music will never leave, no matter how hard you try. But its Harnick's lyrics that I favor in this case, especially with the double-meaning of the word "match" so cleverly used here: "Playing with matches/A girl can get burned/So, bring me no ring/Groom me no groom/Find me no find/Catch me no catch/Unless he's a matchless match..." OVERALL SCORE: 84.0

54. FINISHING THE HAT

[Sunday in the Park with George; 1984; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Although Sondheim has claimed that his most autobiographical song is "Opening Doors" from the underrated Merrily We Roll Along, there always seems to be something inherently autobiographical about the creation of art in this incredible song, a standout in Sondheim's oeuvre. Yes, it's the character of George Seurat singing, but it's Sondheim's voice and (perhaps) philosophy. Knowingly going over the top with the following comparisons, I would put this in the same company as Vermeer's "The Painter and His Model," Van Gogh's "Self Portrait as a Painter," and even Fellini's "8-1/2." Yes, we must separate the art from the artist, but how can we in this instance when the work itself is one of the great statements about creation from a true master? There's a reason that, out of all the titles of his songs, Sondheim called his first book of lyrics, which actually acts as a quasi-autobiography in and of itself, Finishing the Hat. OVERALL SCORE: 83.8

55. ONE

[A Chorus Line; 1975; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban]

The final number from the ultimate dancer-based musical, it makes quite a statement when you think about it. We all think of "One" as a feel-good final number--the dancers, donning top hats, are finally selected and we get to see the final product. But the truth is, it's anything but feel-good here. A Chorus Line is a show that showcases the uniqueness of each auditioning dancer, each quirk and touching story that they tell or sing, but in the end, dressed alike, you can't tell any of them apart. This is what it really means to be in the chorus. And as a group, they really are a "singular sensation," a one. None of them stand out or are supposed to. This is the harsh reality of their lives. As director-choreographer Michael Bennett put it, "There are no bows. I don't believe in bows, just the fade out. That's what a dancer's life is." In the show, each dancer worked so hard to be noticed, to be picked, but ultimately, as seen in the song "One," they just ended up as faceless cogs in a glitzy Broadway machine. That's show biz! OVERALL SCORE: 83.8

56. BRING HIM HOME

[Les Miserables; 1985; music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Alain Boublil]

I will never make the claim that watching a Broadway show is better than reading a novel-they are two very different entities. However, I will claim that the portion of Les Miserables when Jean Valjean prays for Marius works much better in the musical than it does in the book. Hushed like an actual prayer in church, built like an actual psalm, ultimately ending as a powerful heavenly plea, it represents Schonberg's most beautiful composition. Ever. OVERALL SCORE: 83.6

57. TRY TO REMEMBER

[The Fantasticks; 1960; music by Harvey Schmidt; lyrics by Tom Jones]

Writing a list like this makes me feel like I'm wading knee-deep in a river of nostalgia. And no song captures the yearning of nostalgia, those familiar pangs of remembrance, like "Try to Remember." Although made famous by Jerry Orbach and covered by many--notably Ed Ames, Barry McGuire, the Sandpipers, and Liza Minnelli--the Gladys Knight version, paired with "The Way We Were," is the one that resonates most. OVERALL SCORE: 83.6

58. AQUARIUS

[Hair; 1967; music by Galt MacDermot; lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado]

59. PINBALL WIZARD

[The Who's Tommy; 1969; music and lyrics by Pete Townshend]

60. GETHSEMANE

[Jesus Christ Superstar; 1970; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Tim Rice]

Rarely has rock been kind to Broadway musicals. How can it be? True rock is rabid, risky, and rollicking--everything most musical theatre songs try not to be. Look at the fan favorite Bye, Bye Birdie; it's not rock, not even close. It's more easy listening, white bread safe, less Elvis and more Fabian. But some rock musicals work-like Hair, The Who's Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. (Cult rock shows also must be mentioned; "The Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and "Wig in a Box" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch almost made the cut.)

In the rockin' hippie-fest, Hair, "Aquarius" is the cool opening number, a generational call to arms, and even became the #1 song of the summer of 1969, thanks to The Fifth Dimension's celestial interpretation. OVERALL SCORE: 83.4. "Pinball Wizard," also one of the anthems of '69 (though it didn't hit Broadway until 1993), was a Top-40 hit (both for the Who and, later, for Elton John) that works in Tommy as a blasting final Act 1 number. One of the greatest of all classic rock songs (whether part of a musical or not), it's a definite win, not a tilt. OVERALL SCORE: 83.4. "Gethsamane," which is Christ's realization of his fate--impending death--is Jesus Christ Superstar's finest number and one of the great male solo songs of the early 1970's (up there with the likes of "Being Alive" and "Corner in the Sky"). Only marred by one of Rice's clunkiest lines ("Show me just a little of your omnipresent brain," Jesus pleads to God at one point), it easily ranks as one of Webber's very best compositions. OVERALL SCORE: 83.3.

61. NIGHT AND DAY

[Gay Divorce; 1932; music and lyrics by Cole Porter]

One of Cole Porter's most popular tunes, with Fred Astaire Broadway version spending a whopping ten weeks on the charts at #1. The reason it's not higher on this list-its popularity should have thrust it into the Top-10-is because it's a stand-alone song, and the context within the musical of its origins, Gay Divorce, doesn't really matter. Look for cover versions by a wide variety of souls, including Frank Sinatra, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Ringo Starr, Everything But the Girl, and U2. OVERALL SCORE: 83.2

62. THE LADIES WHO LUNCH

[Company; 1970; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

63. ADELAIDE'S LAMENT

[Guys and Dolls; 1950; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser]

Two of the finest female character roles--Joanne in Company and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls--get their moment in the spotlight. "The Ladies Who Lunch" contains some of Stephen Sondheim's most cynical, steely and incisive lyrics. Check out he inner rhymes in the following lines: "And here's to the girls who play wife/Aren't they too much?/Keeping house but clutching a copy of Life/Just to keep in touch." As made famous by Elaine Stritch, a vodka stinger cupped in her hand, it's a song of surrender to the modern age, a masterpiece that, though it may include '60's lingo ("optical art"), can still make sense to modern sensibilities. OVERALL SCORE: 83.2. And Guys and Dolls' "Adelaide's Lament," where the nose-blowing, cold-ridden gal to her gambling beau, Nathan Detroit, flips through a book on psychology between sneezes and sniffles. With a hilarious nasal voice that sounds like nails on a particularly squeaky chalkboard, it's comic gold. OVERALL SCORE: 83.2

64. GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME

[My Fair Lady; 1956; music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner]

My Fair Lady's big number, a drunken singalong where Cockney Alfred P. Doolittle looks to move up in the world but also, pre-wedding, to drink so much in celebration that he worries he might miss the nuptials if he's not careful. More buoyant fun than any song on this list. OVERALL SCORE: 83.0

65. YOU'RE THE TOP

[Anything Goes; 1934; music and lyrics by Cole Porter]

Maybe some of the best lyrics in the history of musical theatre, rivaled only by the works of Stephen Sondheim. Check out this one, where Porter dares to compare a classical work to a cartoon character: "You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss/You're a Bendel bonnet/A Shakespeare's sonnet/You're Mickey Mouse!" Or this one, taking a classic piece of literature and comparing it to a comedian: "You're a rose/You're Inferno's Dante/You're the nose/On the great Durante." There are too many joyous examples of Porter's cleverness (or, if you would like, genius) in this one song to count. OVERALL SCORE: 83.0

66. ROCK ISLAND

[The Music Man; 1957; music and lyrics by Meredith Willson]

One of musical theatre's most groundbreaking numbers, "Rock Island" has been singled out by some as the grandfather of hip-hop with salesmen rapping Willson's proto-hip-hop lyrics on a train. It's interesting to think about, but I doubt DaBaby or YNW Melly look at The Music Man as an early influence. OVERALL SCORE: 83.0

67. ON MY OWN

[Les Miserables; 1985; music by Claude- Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Alain Boublil]

68. IF EVER I WOULD LEAVE YOU

[Camelot; 1960; music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner]

Two of the greatest songs of unrequited or unfulfilled love ever written. Les Miserables' big Act 2 number, and now a classic, "On My Own" follows Eponine as she walks around Paris, yearning for Marius, who loves another. It has been sung so often by teenage girls at auditions and talent shows that it has become a standard on the verge of being overdone. OVERALL SCORE: 82.8. At the opening of Act 2 of Camelot, a tormented Lancelot will not leave his secret love, Guinevere, and sings this gorgeous love song. One of Lerner and Loewe's best, it's the song that single-handedly made Robert Goulet a star. OVERALL SCORE: 82.6

69. I'LL COVER YOU (REPRISE)

[Rent; 1996; music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson]

70. IT'S QUIET UPTOWN

[Hamilton; 2015; music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda]

71. LEFT BEHIND

[Spring Awakening; 2006; music by Duncan Sheik; lyrics by Steven Sater]

These are three of the finest, most emotional musical theatre songs ever written about loss, up there with Carousel's "You'll Never Walk Alone" (#12). In the tear-inducing "I Will Cover You (Reprise)," Rent's Act 2 bludgeon of despair, Tom Collins breaks down at the funeral of his lover, Angel. OVERALL SCORE: 82.0. "It's Quiet Uptown" finds a devastated Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, hauntingly picking up the pieces after losing their son. OVERALL SCORE: 82.0. And in Spring Awakening's "Left Behind," young Melchior and his peers attend a funeral and drop flowers into the grave of their friend, Moritz, who had just committed suicide. OVERALL SCORE: 82.0. If ever you find yourself feeling a bit too happy, then listen to these three songs back to back for an antidote to all of that glee. Lou Reed's Berlin is euphoric by comparison.

72. I ENJOY BEING A GIRL

[Flower Drum Song; 1958; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song tackles Chinese-American characters and their old school values versus a more Americanized modern way of life. The show has been almost forgotten, but the song, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," sung by the character Linda Low on a blind date with Ta Wang in Act 1, has lasted the test of time. It started becoming a drag queen standard in the 1960's, with even trans activist Christine Jorgensen performing it at nightclubs. Times certainly change, but the song has only grown in popularity and nowadays can been crowned as the ultimate drag anthem. OVERALL SCORE: 82.0.

73. LUCK BE A LADY

[Guys and Dolls; 1950; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser]

74. 76 TROMBONES

[The Music Man; 1959; music and lyrics by Meredith Willson]

75. THE SOUND OF MUSIC

[The Sound of Music; 1959; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein]

You may find it alarming that these three iconic songs, some of the most famous in all of musical theatre, rank on the latter half of this chart. You would think they would be at least in the Top-50 if not the Top-25. But the rubric said otherwise, and there are over 70 songs that scored higher than these beloved behemoths.

"Luck Be a Lady," Sky Masterson's galvanizing wish in a life-and-death game of craps, is terrifically catchy, but two other Guys and Dolls songs--the gospelized "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" and hilarious character-driven "Adelaide's Lament"--scored higher. OVERALL SCORE: 81.6. "76 Trombones," The Music Man's big hit, a classic among classics, doesn't hold a candle to "Rock Island," especially when it comes to groundbreaking lyrics. OVERALL SCORE: 81.1. And the title song of The Sound of Music, where the hills are alive, is beloved but is nowhere in the same vicinity as the brilliant "My Favorite Things," the touching "Edelweiss," or the catchy "Do-Re-Me." OVERALL SCORE: 81.0.

76. I GOT RHYTHM

[Girl Crazy; 1930; music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin]

This is it, Ethel Merman's Broadway debut, where her bombastic pipes all but tear this classic to shreds. Legend has it that George Gershwin read Merman's rave reviews from opening night and frankly suggested she never take a singing lesson. The song has since become a renowned jazz standard; who could ask for anything more? OVERALL SCORE: 81.0

77. TRADITION

[Fiddler on the Roof; 1964; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick]

78. COMEDY TONIGHT

[A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; 1962; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

Two of the great opening songs. In Fiddler on the Roof, "Tradition" introduces us to one of musical theatre's most memorable characters, Tevye, a milkman in Anatevka, who with the villagers go through the necessities of their Jewish traditions as the world will soon be collapsing around them. OVERALL SCORE: 81.0. Pseudolus, Funny Thing's crazily charismatic lead (and a slave), will do anything for his freedom. In out of town tryouts, the original opening song, "Love is in the Air," just wasn't cutting it, and audiences didn't get the show at all. Stephen Sondheim, earning his first Broadway credit as both composer and lyricist, replaced the opening song with "Comedy Tonight," and Funny Thing really became a funny thing as well as an instant hit. And Sondheim's lyrics told the world that a major player had indeed landed on the Great White Way: "Pantaloons and tunics/Courtesans and eunuchs/Funerals and chases/Baritones and basses/ Panderers! Philanderers!/Cupidity! Timidity!/Mistakes! Fakes!/Rhymes! Mimes!/ Tumblers! Grumblers!/Bumblers! Fumblers!/No royal curse/No Trojan horse/And a happy ending, of course!" OVERALL SCORE: 81.0

79. SEPTEMBER SONG

[Knickerbocker Holiday; 1938; music by Kurt Weill; lyrics by Maxwell Anderson]

The song may be a standard, but it comes from the least-known musical on this list, Knickerbocker Holiday (has anybody alive actually seen it?). Although written only to give star Walter Huston an older-man solo, "September Song" has so many quirky versions over the years, including by ELO's Jeff Lynne and Echo and the Bunnymen. Not to be confused with the ballsy song by the same name in [title of show]. OVERALL SCORE: 81.0

80. POPULAR

[Wicked; 2003; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz]

Wicked's "Popular" reminds me of the scene in the movie The Breakfast Club where prom queen Claire tries to help the basket case, Allison, turn "beautiful." It's the same here, with cheerleader-peppy Glinda the Good Witch and future Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba in Wicked. The song is sheer bubblegum, dumb fun, with playfully funny lyrics, as heard here: "And with an assist from me/To be who you'll be/Instead of dreary who you were/Well, are/There's nothing that can stop you/From becoming popu-ler... lar..." OVERALL SCORE: 81.0

81. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LOVE HIM

[Jesus Christ Superstar; 1970; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Tim Rice]

Andrew Lloyd Webber was only 22 when he wrote Mary Magdalene's big solo number, one of his most romantic ballads. Some of Tim Rice's lyrics in it proved controversial, such as Mary questioning her relationship with Jesus in this song: "He's a man/He's just a man/And I've had so many men before/In very many ways/He's just one more..." The song became such a sensation that two versions of it appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time-Yvonne Elliman's original and Helen Reddy's more muted cover version. OVERALL SCORE: 81.0

82. YOU GOTTA GET A GIMMICK

[Gypsy; 1959; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim]

83. BIG SPENDER

[Sweet Charity; 1966; music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by Dorothy Fields]

In Gypsy, with "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," three strippers-Mazeppa, Tessie Tura, and Electra-teach Louise the Burlesque ropes in one of the funniest, sauciest songs ever written. OVERALL SCORE: 81.0. In Sweet Charity, based on Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, Charity and the attitudinal hostess-dancers of the Fandango Ballroom proposition customers (the audience). It's a marvelous character song, each girl standing at a crossbar in a classic Fosse pose. "Big Spender" is also remembered by boomers who heard it used in a classic Muriel Cigar commercial in the 1970's. OVERALL SCORE: 81.0.

84. THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

[The Phantom of the Opera; 1986; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Richard Stilgoe & Charles Hart]

The signature tune from the longest running Broadway musical of all time, The Phantom of the Opera, this is Webber at his hypnotic best. Broadway's first Phantom, the dynamic Michael Crawford, shook the rafters and the walls with his commanding interpretation of it. But the question must be asked: Does this sound too close to Puccini? Well, there was enough of a similarity to The Girl of the Golden West that a plagiarism lawsuit was filed and eventually settled out of court. That probably explains why it's not higher on the list, but to not include "The Music of the Night" in the 101 would be a crime of a different kind. OVERALL SCORE: 80.8

85. THEY CALL THE WIND MARIAH

[Paint Your Wagon; 1951; music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner]

If you like Mariah Carey's first name, then you have this cowboy crooning classic to thank. OVERALL SCORE: 80.0

86. BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED

[Pal Joey; 1940; music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Lorenz Hart]

Vera Simpson's big song near the end of Act 1 of Pal Joey. Interestingly, in an episode of The Crown, King George VI sings this with Princess Margaret. During Pal Joey's revival in 1952, my father sat in the front row, and the person next to him kept singing along with the show's many hit songs, including this one. My father wanted to tell him to quiet down, but it turns out that the man who was singing aloud to all of the tunes turned out to be none other than King George's brother--Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson. My dad was very glad that he didn't shush him. OVERALL SCORE: 80.0

87. TAKE ME OR LEAVE ME

[Rent; 1996; music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson]

One of the great break-up songs, this one between two polar opposite women: flirty Maureen and controlling Joanne. The number is a favorite of teenage girls and karaoke lovers who get to flex both their acting and musical chops whenever performing it. OVERALL SCORE: 80.0

88. HOME

[The Wiz; 1975; music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls]

Dorothy's big number at the end of The Wiz, as she departs Oz and tearfully looks back on all that she has learned. Powerful stuff. This is also the song that made Whitney Houston a star when, in 1983, she belted it on The Merv Griffin Show. OVERALL SCORE: 80.0

89. VANILLA ICE CREAM

[She Loves Me; 1963; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick]

One of the quirkiest songs on the list, where parfumerie worker Amalia Balash suddenly finds herself smitten with a co-worker she used to despise. And all because he brought her vanilla ice cream to cheer her up. The last note, somewhere between a shriek and a yawp of orgasmic joy, is a doozy. OVERALL SCORE: 80.0

90. SUMMER NIGHTS

[Grease; 1972; music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey]

Inspired by Bye Bye Birdie's "The Telephone Hour," "Summer Nights" is an accurate Rashomon-like look at how girls and guys of the 1950's bragged about romance. Sandy and Danny see the same events from very different angles; Sandy talks about Danny holding her hand, while Danny talks about Sandy getting friendly "down in the sand." Sandy calls him "sweet," while Danny calls her "good (you know what I mean)." Like Rashomon, the truth is somewhere in-between. OVERALL SCORE: 79.4

91. WAVING THROUGH A WINDOW

[Dear Evan Hansen; 2015; music & lyrics by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek]

A masterpiece of alienation; a teenage anthem for the outcasts of the world: "I try to speak, but nobody can hear/So I wait around for an answer to appear/While I'm watch, watch, watching people pass/I'm waving through a window..." OVERALL SCORE: 79.0

92. GOOD MORNING, BALTIMORE

[Hairspray; 2002; music by Marc Shaiman lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman]

A terrific, exuberant opening to one of the most popular musicals of the past two decades. Perky Traci Turnblad, a big girl with an even bigger soul, sings lovingly and excitedly about her seedy city, beaming about the rats on the street, drunk bums, and even a flasher. OVERALL SCORE: 79.0

93. OPEN A NEW WINDOW

[Mame; 1966; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman]

Auntie Mame's moveable-feast philosophy, a positive life-force Weltanschauung of a song, as refreshing as a Dr. Pepper on a hot summer day. Moral of the tune: Don't be ordinary. For the record, this Mame mantra scored higher on this list than the song "Mame," mainly because the title tune came across too much like another over-the-top Jerry Herman composition, "Hello, Dolly." OVERALL SCORE: 78.6

94. CORNER OF THE SKY

[Pippin; 1972; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz]

One of the great coming of age songs, young Pippin trying to discover his purpose in life. More powerful than the other big songs in Pippin-"Magic to Do" and "Morning Glow"-this, performed early in the show, is as strong an "I Want" song as you will find. OVERALL SCORE: 78.0

95. HEY THERE

[Pajama Game; 1954; music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross]

The Superintendent of the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, Sid Sorokin, reveals his real feelings for Babe by dictating them over a recording device in this standout song. The cleverest moment occurs when he winds up singing a duet with himself during the recording. The song spawned many versions, including ones by Bette Midler, Kathie Lee Gifford, Lawrence Welk, and Rosemary Clooney; Clooney's version would even top the Billboard charts in 1954. OVERALL SCORE: 78.0

96. WAIT FOR ME

[Hadestown; 2018; music and lyrics by Anais Mitchell]

This glorious song, led by Hermes and Orpheus, will no doubt be a standard for years to come. OVERALL SCORE: 77.0

97. SOMEWHERE THAT'S GREEN

[Little Shop of Horrors; 1982; music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman]

For those readers who bemoan that no song from The Little Mermaid made the list because it was first written for a film, fret no longer. "Somewhere That's Green," Audrey's dream of a better life outside of Skid Row in Little Shop of Horrors, sounds exactly like Menken and Ashman's "Part of Your World." The circumstances are different: Audrey yearns for a normal housewife life in a perfect house out of "Better Homes & Gardens" magazine; Ariel, a mermaid, wants to experience walking around the human world. Both songs sound eerily familiar, right down to their identical endings; but "Somewhere That's Green" was the first and ultimately the more powerful of the two. (Look for a mash-up of these on You Tube.) OVERALL SCORE: 77.0

98. BROTHERHOOD OF MAN

[How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; 1961; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser]

99. THE AMERICAN DREAM

[Miss Saigon; 1989; music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Alain Boublil]

Two bombastic 11 O'Clock numbers...and in a way, they are this list's 11 O'Clock numbers as well.

Business is usually a cut-throat enterprise, a competitive meat grinder, as ex-window-washer-turned-executive, J. Pierrepont Finch, is about to discover in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Finch tells the chairman, Mr. Womper, "You see, Wally, even though we're all a part of this cold, corporate setup/ Deep down, under our skins, there's flesh and blood." He saves his job with this ultimate 11 O'Clock number, an ode to the dog-eat-dog business world that he sees as family. OVERALL SCORE: 76.8. In Miss Saigon, The Engineer is a businessman of a different type-he's a pimp who dreams of crossing the ocean "white with foam" in order to be a part of American capitalism. "The American Dream" is a rousing 11 O'Clock number, where everyone's favorite Eurasian pimp imagines owning a club that rates four-stars while his call girls line Times Square. In a not-so-subtle symbolic act that ends the song, The Engineer humps a white limo. OVERALL SCORE: 76.0

100. I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU

[Side Show; 1997; music by Henry Krieger; lyrics by Bill Russell]

Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet sing this gorgeous duet, one of the show's final numbers, in a moment of comfort before one of them marries. Side Show wasn't a hit in its first Broadway run, lasting less than a hundred performances even with the likes of Alice Ripley starring in it. But "I Will Never Leave You" has become bigger than the show that spawned it and is now considered one of the finest duets of the past thirty years. OVERALL SCORE: 76

101. GOODBYE UNTIL TOMORROW/I COULD NEVER RESCUE YOU

[The Last Five Years; 2002; music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown]

Jamie and Cathy have been together for five years, and the ingenious songwriter Jason Robert Brown tells their love story and subsequent breakup going both forward and backwards in structure. (It's very Sondheimian of him, although Sondheim couldn't quite successfully accomplish the reverse-timeline in Merrily We Roll Along.) The Last Five Years starts with Cathy's lamentation of her failed marriage and Jamie's point of view as he first dates her five years earlier. Back and forth, until the powerful ending and brilliant final number: "Goodbye Until Tomorrow" (Cathy's song after the first date with Jamie, a man she realizes may be the love of her life) and "I Could Never Rescue You" (Jamie's lamentation over their failed marriage). Both say goodbye in a different way--she's filled with hope in seeing him the next day, and he's saddened by a relationship that they just couldn't fix. It's exquisitely rendered, the show's final moment of power, simultaneously filled with hope and heartbreak, love and sorrow, dreams of a future and the reality of defeat. It's the perfect number to conclude this list. OVERALL SCORE: 76.0


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From This Author Peter Nason