if you have an overture, do you also need an underture?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

ON QUORA, it ap­pears that most people ask a ques­tion hoping for an in­tel­li­gent an­swer. The ques­tion is a gen­uine search for in­for­ma­tion. But it’s ap­parent that some people ask a ques­tion and then an­swer their own ques­tion. This seems to be a rhetor­ical de­vice to im­part in­for­ma­tion, to ex­press an opinion, or to seek af­fir­ma­tion of an opinion.

Both are fine, but the in­tent isn’t ob­vious to the reader: does the person asking the ques­tion want an an­swer or a pat on the back. Also, if he is seeking af­fir­ma­tion for what is an in­cor­rect opinion, anyone who an­swers and cor­rects that opinion risks of­fending him.

I usu­ally take the ques­tions lit­er­ally and work from there. (Un­less I choose to an­swer hu­mor­ously or iron­i­cally, but that’s an­other story.)


I usu­ally take the ques­tions asked on Quora lit­er­ally and se­ri­ously and work from there.


I was re­quested to ad­dress the ques­tion, “What rock and roll mas­ter­piece has both an over­ture and an un­der­ture?” The ques­tion is less spe­cific than it might seem:

  The word mas­ter­piece has sev­eral meanings.
  Calling an album a mas­ter­piece is often a matter of opinion.
  The word un­der­ture has no tech­nical de­f­i­n­i­tion in music, al­though its meaning is im­plied and easily understood.
  And after more than sixty years, we still have not set­tled on a de­f­i­n­i­tion of the term rock & roll!

The ques­tion is even more dif­fi­cult to an­swer if one con­siders that over­ture has syn­onyms that are per­ti­nent to the an­swer, in­cluding pre­lude and pro­logue.


TheWho posed 1969 SteveWood 1000

The Who (Pete Townsend, John En­twistle, Keith Moon, and Roger Dal­trey) in 1969, when they re­leased TOMMY and set about a tour that in­tro­duced the album to the world. The album and the tour made the group fa­mous and gave them the money to be fi­nan­cially se­cure for the rest of their lives.

Definitions and synonyms

It’s usu­ally in every­one’s in­terest to work with non-partisan de­f­i­n­i­tions of im­por­tant terms. For the fol­lowing trio of terms, I re­ferred to Merriam-Webster:

  An over­ture is an or­ches­tral in­tro­duc­tion to a mu­sical dra­matic work.
  A pre­lude is a mu­sical sec­tion or move­ment in­tro­ducing the theme or chief sub­ject or serving as an in­tro­duc­tion to an opera or oratorio.
  A prologue is an in­tro­duc­tory or pre­ceding event or development.

Each word has other mean­ings; I chose those per­ti­nent to the dis­cus­sion. Both pre­ludes and pro­logues can be used in lit­erary and mu­sical works.


FifthDimension MagicGarden SoulCity 500

Re­leased in late 1967, THE MAGIC GARDEN was a con­cept album and the first pop album that opened with a pro­logue and ended with an epi­logue. In be­tween were nine new songs written for the group by Jimmy Webb. 


Back to the ques­tion, “What rock and roll mas­ter­piece has both an over­ture and an un­der­ture?” Sev­eral people of­fered The Who’s TOMMY as their an­swer, and it is one of sev­eral cor­rect an­swers to the ques­tion. One of the TOMMY an­swers in­cluded ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, some of it incorrect.

I re­sponded to this an­swer and that in­spired a 3-way con­ver­sa­tion, which is ad­dressed below. The par­tic­i­pants in the ar­gu­ment are:

  RM is Roger Mor­eira (TOMMY).
  LS is 
  NU is 
Neal Umphred (THE MAGIC GARDEN).

In the text below, I made minor ed­i­to­rial al­ter­ations from what orig­i­nally ap­peared on Quora: I elim­i­nated some re­dun­dan­cies and tweaked a few things to en­sure that the styles more closely matched those of this blog. 1

The con­ver­sa­tion opens with Roger’s answer.


BloodSweatAndTears Child LP 600

Re­leased in early 1968, Blood, Sweat & Tears was Al Koop­er’s brain­child, melding jazzy brass arrange­ments atop bluesy in­ter­pre­ta­tions of rock and pop songs. Dif­fer­ences in the group’s di­rec­tions led Kooper to flee what would shortly be­come a band that was both ob­nox­ious as all get-out and even more successful!

Listening to you

RM: TOMMY by The Who. In fact, they were the cre­ators of the word. There is no entry of un­der­ture in Dictionary.com, the world’s fa­vorite on­line dic­tio­nary, or the Ox­ford dic­tio­nary. The word is listed as a title of one of the songs in TOMMY by The Who.

NU: I thought I’d chime in with an ob­ser­va­tion: al­though The Who were major stars on the UK pop charts, they barely made a dent in the US charts until Happy Jack in mid-1967. By the end of the year, the mono HAPPY JACK and WHO SELL OUT al­bums were cut-outs and I bought my first Who al­bums for 99¢ each.

I found most of their ear­lier Decca sin­gles at a shop that sold used jukebox records for a nickel apiece (six for a quarter). By the time TOMMY came out in 1969, I was one of the few Who fans in my high school.


The word ‘un­der­ture’ has no tech­nical de­f­i­n­i­tion in music, al­though its meaning is im­plied and easily understood.


My ini­tial re­ac­tion to TOMMY was luke­warm: I thought it the weakest of their four al­bums to date. Fifty years later and my opinion re­mains unchanged.

I see it as a mas­ter­piece in the sense that it dis­plays Townsend’s mas­tery of song­writing, ar­ranging, and han­dling the studio.

Ar­tis­ti­cally, I find it in­dul­gent and bloated and think it would make a super single album—almost as good as the first three Who albums.


AlKooper IStandAlone LP 600

Re­leased in Feb­ruary 1969, Al Kooper used the same tem­plate on his first solo album I STAND ALONE as he used on the Blood, Sweat & Tears album. “While it’s not quite the mas­ter­piece of the ear­lier album, it’s still a mar­velous record.” The title of the album is a state­ment to the mem­bers of the group he started who drove him out!

Something going on

LS: CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN by Blood, Sweat & Tears (1968) has both Over­ture and Un­der­ture. For those only fa­miliar with the bom­bast of the second gen­er­a­tion, David Clayton-Thomas-led BS&T, this first album might be a revelation.

Al Kooper sings lead, plays key­boards, and di­rects this stun­ning mix of bril­liant orig­i­nals and great cover tunes by Nilsson, Randy Newman, Tim Buckley, and others. This album cre­ated the sound that Chicago would take to the top of the charts a year and some later.

In­ternal dis­sen­sion re­sulted in Kooper leaving the group, but you can see what the second album might have sounded like with Kooper on board by lis­tening to Kooper’s 1969 solo album I STAND ALONE (if you can find it). Kooper uses the same tem­plate he used on CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN, and while it’s not quite the mas­ter­piece of the ear­lier album, it’s still a mar­velous record. 2

And just for the record, while I agree with Neal Umphred on nearly every­thing, I like TOMMY even less than he does. Not a mas­ter­piece in my book.

NU: Al Kooper’s ex­per­i­mental jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears re­leased CHILD IS THE FATHER TO THE MAN in March 1968, one year be­fore TOMMY. The first track on the album is Over­ture by Al Kooper, while the last track is So Much Love/Underture, which is cred­ited to Gerry Goffin and Carol King. 3


TheWho Tommy US DXSW 600

Re­leased in May 1969, TOMMY took a while to take off but take off it did! Sales of the album turned The Who into one of the most pop­ular live acts in the world and the in­come from 1969 alone pulled the group out of years of debt to their man­age­ment (who had spent a for­tune on Pe­te’s gui­tars and am­pli­fiers and Kei­th’s drums).

She walks all over you (you know she can)

NU: In De­cember 1967, the 5th Di­men­sion re­leased THE MAGIC GARDEN. It was a “con­cept album” written and arranged by Jimmy Webb, the hottest new song­writer in the country at the time.

The first side of THE MAGIC GARDEN opens with Pro­logue and the second sides closed with Epi­logue, beating both Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Who. 4

The album did not sell well but two tracks were two Top 40 hits: Carpet Man and Paper Cup. It’s an am­bi­tious and lovely album and de­serves a hel­luva lot more at­ten­tion than it has received.

RM: Yes, true. But aside from what your per­sonal mu­sical pref­er­ence may be, the word un­der­ture still ap­pears in dic­tio­naries as a Who song. No other meaning.


If you are aware of a pop album from the ’60s that had a “Pro­logue” and “Epi­logue” or an “Over­ture” and “Un­der­ture,” please let me know via a comment.


NU: Roger, thanks for re­sponding to my com­ment! My per­sonal pref­er­ence has nothing to do with the fact that the Who did not coin the term un­der­ture, and that Goffin and King ap­par­ently did. Or at least they ap­pear to have used it for­mally in a title first. 5

A dic­tio­nary iden­ti­fying a non-standard word as a song title is not the same as rec­og­nizing the word as having a meaning.

Back to the ques­tion, “What rock and roll mas­ter­piece has both an over­ture and an un­der­ture.” So far, the an­swer is:

  The 5th Di­men­sion, THE MAGIC GARDEN
  The Who, TOMMY

And there may be others!

If the person who asked the ques­tion in­tended it as a rhetor­ical de­vice to see people write things about TOMMY, he got more than he bar­gained for.

If the person who asked the ques­tion in­tended it as a way to dis­cover great rock al­bums that have in­stru­mental opening and closing tracks that give the album a sense of ‘opera-ness,’ then he’s prob­ably a happy camper!


TheWho Tommy London 600

Re­leased in 1972, TOMMY was an­other double-album (Ode SP-99001), this time by the London Sym­phony Or­chestra and Chambre Choir. Dal­trey, En­twistle, and Townsend con­tributed to the music.

Coiners of the word!

RM: Well, maybe The Who were playing TOMMY be­fore 1968 and Blood Sweat & Tears recorded it first. And not many people no­ticed since the dic­tio­naries still reg­ister The Who as the coiners of the word.

But the orig­inal ques­tion was not that. And I did ac­knowl­edge your an­swer as right. So, I don’t un­der­stand why you’re so upset with my an­swer. Which is cor­rect, by the way.

NU: First, my apolo­gies for what­ever I wrote that led you to be­lieve that I am upset. I’m not the least bit upset! In fact, quite the op­po­site: I’m having a good ol’ time, as re­search and de­bate are my hobbies.

The Who were not playing TOMMY in 1968. One of the rea­sons for writing the “opera” was to get away from re­hashing all the hit sin­gles that made up their tour of America in 1968.

There is no ques­tion that Blood Sweat & Tears recorded a song ti­tled Under­ture first, prob­ably in late 1967. It is an in­stru­mental and like a pro­logue, it reprises melodies and themes from the album.

I also found a couple of In­ternet dic­tio­naries that list In­ter­lude as a song by the Who, but none that credit them with coining the word. If a dic­tio­nary did that, it would ob­vi­ously be in­cor­rect. 6


TheWho Tommy soundtrack Polydor 600 copy

Re­leased in 1975 was yet an­other two-record TOMMY (Polydor ‎PD-2-9502), this time the sound­track to the movie of the same name. En­twistle, Moon, and Townsend con­tributed to the music.


To re­peat my­self, I don’t know who sub­mitted the orig­inal ques­tion. Given that few people know about the 5th Di­men­sion album or even the Blood, Sweat & Tears album, the ques­tion cer­tainly reads like a rhetor­ical de­vice. That is, the person asking the ques­tion wanted TOMMY to be the sole answer.

So, dear readers, here’s a bit of ad­vice: when asking a rhetor­ical ques­tion, make it so spe­cific that the only an­swer is the one you de­sire. Here is how the ques­tion above could have been framed to en­sure the de­sired response:

What double-album ‘rock opera’ that is con­sid­ered by many fans and critics to be a mas­ter­piece and was re­leased in May 1969 by a British rock quartet whose main song­writer’s first name is Pete has both an over­ture and an un­der­ture?”

There is only one an­swer to that question . . .

The word ‘un­der­ture’ was first used on the Blood, Sweat & Tears album Child Is The Fa­ther To The Man in 1968. Click To Tweet

AlKooper BloodSweatTears 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The orig­inal Blood, Sweat & Tears was formed around Al Kooper in 1967. They were a rock group that used big band-based horn arrange­ments on con­tem­po­rary rock and pop songs. The three gents standing in the back are Randy Brecker, Fred Lip­sius, and Steve Katz; the two in the middle are Bobby Colomby and Dick Hal­ligan; and the front row is Jim Fielder, Steve Weiss, and Al Kooper.



1   After I posted my first com­ment on Quora, I went back later in the day and added a second part to it. For the sake of con­ti­nuity, I broke that one com­ment up into two com­ments below. The second part be­gins “In De­cember 1967.”

2   While re­searching a few salient points in this ar­ticle, I came across a user’s re­view that sounds like it could have been written by Lew Shiner under a pseudonym:

“In my humble opinion, CHILD IS THE FATHER TO THE MAN is one of the best al­bums of all time. It’s an ef­fort­less bringing to­gether of el­e­ments which is so rare, and the mu­si­cality on show here is just as­tounding. Blues, jazz, rock, folk, psy­che­delic, horn arrange­ments, string arrange­ments, vocal arrange­ments. The songs are soaring, ex­plo­sive, funny, beau­tiful, and soulful. 

I’m still not sure why Al Kooper was out of Blood, Sweat & Tears after this album, be­cause it’s such a major achieve­ment, and he’s at the core.

Some may prefer to follow the David Clayton-Thomas ver­sion of BS&T as they sailed in­evitably to­wards being a cabaret act, but if you are won­dering whether this child has any brothers and sis­ters, hap­pily the an­swer is yes: check out Al Koop­er’s solo al­bums. This amazing talent didn’t vanish after CHILD IS THE FATHER TO THE MAN.” (All­Music)

3   While Goffin and King did write So Much Love, the second part of the medley (Un­der­ture) was a ‘sound col­lage’ as­sem­bled by Kooper. So, tech­ni­cally it’s Koop­er’s ‘com­po­si­tion,’ but it will no doubt for­ever be cred­ited to Goffin-King. (Thanks, AK.)

4   THE MAGIC GARDEN works if one ac­cepts pro­logue and epi­logue as meaning the same thing as over­ture and un­der­ture. Which they do. Which is why I noted that pre­vi­ously in the sec­tion above on definitions.

5   That state­ment was made be­fore I knew that Kooper was re­spon­sible for Un­der­ture.

6   Yes, lex­i­cog­ra­phers make mis­takes, ergo dic­tio­naries can be incorrect.


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