1999: “La Resistance (Medley)” (Cast, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut)
It’s not necessarily an indictment of the music released in 1999 that I went with “La Resistance” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut to represent the year. But it is. Looking through the albums and singles that came out that year was just unrelentingly bleak. The only other album I remotely considered was Metallica’s S&M, but even that’s just a glorified greatest hits collection. This was the year that brought us Britney Spears and “Mambo No. 5.” The pickings were slim.
But that’s not to say I probably wouldn’t have gone with something from the South Park movie regardless. The last thing anyone expected from this film was a good old-fashioned movie musical, but there the characters were crooning their way through “Mountain Town” right out of the gate, a song that doesn’t take a lot of auditory gymnastics to twist into “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast. Then on to “Uncle F**ka,” which, lyrical content aside, could have easily stepped out of “Oklahoma.” By this point, the mad genius of what Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Marc Shaiman had become clear: they weren’t just making a musical South Park film, they were parodying pretty much every musical genre they could get their hands on, but with songs that were good enough to stand side by side with the originals they were poking fun at.
And nowhere is that more apparent than in the brilliant “La Resistance,” which is Les Misérables in all its chest-beating, flag-waving glory. While “Uncle F**ka” was the tune that most people walked out buzzing about, I remember watching “La Resistance” unfold in sheer, jaw-dropped amazement. It’s such a dead-on piece of mimicry, from the overly earnest exhortations of Gregory to the intercutting between the various locales. It’s Les Mis by way of West Side Story.
But it stands on is own as a thrilling musical number. It so perfectly sums up where all the characters are at that point in film, raises the stakes for the third act, and expertly weaves its different melodies together into a cohesive, pleasing whole. And if you tune out the references to getting “stabbed in the head / with a dagger or a sword,” it’s a pretty stirring number. And that’s the secret to good parody: you’ve got to attack what you’re spoofing with equal parts mockery and reverence. It’s what makes Weird Al so great; the guy’s an outstanding musician who absolutely nails the songs he’s making fun of. And while “La Resistance” is more parodying a specific kind of song than one song in particular, it wouldn’t work nearly as well without the respect Parker, Stone and Shaiman show for the genre.
I know there have been some incredibly well-received episodes of South Park in the thirteen years since Bigger, Longer & Uncut, but for me, there was no way Parker and Stone were going to top it. It was this unfettered, lyrical distillation of everything the show was in its early days, and as such, felt like a pinnacle. And in such a musically barren year, that it offered up such great music only made it shine the brighter.