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.
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.
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 Lew Shiner (CHILD IS THE FATHER TO THE MAN).
• 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.
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.
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
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
• Blood, Sweat & Tears, CHILD IS THE FATHER TO THE MAN
• 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!
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
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
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.