When a professional sports team gets close to a championship, it's pretty much standard operating procedure for them to receive an attendant theme song. For the most part, those songs are performed by professional novelty acts or the athletes themselves. As far as I know, a legendary, still beloved band has never adapted one of their own very great songs for use as a rallying cry.
So it's pretty cool that the Flaming Lips have done exactly that, changing the lyrics of the Soft Bulletin standout "Race for the Prize" and adding "Thunder Up!" chants to create a fairly standard anthem about the Thunder, Oklahoman pride, and the band's own fandom. You can listen along on the YouTube above (via Pitchfork) or check out this link to Steven Drozd's SoundCloud. It's cute, and nice, and quite listenable, because the original song is so good. Maybe you would have preferred a rewrite of "Egotripping at the Gates of Hell" about Russell Westbrook's shot selection, but this is a pretty good substitute.
It's not terribly surprising that the band made this song — they're big fans, and Wayne Coyne has even served as a guest judge at Thunder cheerleader tryouts. But there's still something a little off about this song, and it's not the fact that a critically lauded song is now being used in the bro'd up world of NBA fans, either. This website wouldn't exist if we didn't believe that the parts of ourselves that appreciate a great song can't coexist with those that cheer a sensational pass. It's actually really awesome that the Thunder (and Flaming Lips) cared enough to do this. And it's also not as if altering one of their better songs somehow diminishes the original, because we all have our copies of The Soft Bulletin to go back to as often as we like. This track wouldn't be immeasurably better if the band had chosen one of the stupider songs off At War with the Mystics (which, as someone recently informed me over Twitter, Manu Ginobili blasts between playoff games).
Instead, the problem is that as a music fan, it's difficult to listen to the Thunder crowd-pleaser version of without realizing that it's just an inferior piece of music. The great thing about the real "Race for the Prize" is that it's not just a full-on celebration of the great work that scientists do — it's that, although the results can be positive, all that goes into that process can be harmful. Families are ignored, competititive drives overwhelms the spirit of the task at hand, personal health is put at risk, etc. As with most of the Flaming Lips' best songs, the buoyancy is tempered by a world-weary perspective.
"Thunder Up" is a propaganda piece for the Oklahoma City Thunder. What's upsetting isn't that the Flaming Lips are performing a song for a sports team, but that the one they chose ignores most of what makes the group so essential. It's not quite an adulteration of "Race for the Prize," but of the spirit behind it. The message of the Flaming Lips, this song included, is that it's possible to cheer something and simultaneously consider the broader context in which it operates. Thunder fans deserve better than to be simply told when to scream.