Asia are an English rock supergroup formed in London in 1981. The most commercially successful line-up was its original, which consisted of four members of different progressive rock bands that had enjoyed great success in the 1970s: lead vocalist and bassist John Wetton of King Crimson and U.K., guitarist Steve Howe of Yes, keyboardist Geoff Downes of Yes and The Buggles, and drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their debut album, Asia, released in 1982, remains their best selling album and went to number one in several countries. The lead single from the album, “Heat of the Moment”, remains their top charting and best-known song, reaching the top 40 in over a dozen markets and peaking in the U.S. at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
The band underwent multiple line-up changes before the original four members reunited in 2006. As a result, a band called Asia Featuring John Payne exists as a continuation of John Payne’s career as Asia’s frontman from 1991 until Wetton’s return in 2006. In 2013, the original line-up was broken once again when Howe retired from the band and was replaced by guitarist Sam Coulson. After a few years of inactivity, Billy Sherwood (of Yes, World Trade and Circa:) replaced an ailing Wetton (who died shortly thereafter) in Asia for a summer 2017 tour with Journey. Following the end of the tour, the band went on hiatus again, re-emerging in 2019 with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal replacing both Sherwood on vocals and Coulson on guitar.
Asia began in early 1981 after the apparent ending of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, two of the founding bands of British progressive rock. After the break-up of King Crimson in 1974, various plans for a supergroup involving bassist John Wetton had not been successful, including the abortive British Bulldog project with Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman in 1976. In 1977 Bruford and Wetton were reunited in U.K., augmented by guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Their self-titled debut was released in 1978. But by January 1980, U.K. had folded after one lineup change and three recordings. A new project was then suggested involving Wetton, Wakeman, drummer Carl Palmer and (then little known) guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin, but Wakeman left this project shortly before they were due to sign to Geffen and before they had played together.
In early January 1981, Wetton and former Yes guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start writing material for a new album. They were eventually joined by drummer Carl Palmer and finally by Howe’s fellow member of Yes, keyboardist Geoff Downes. Two other players auditioned and considered during the band’s formation were former The Move and ELO founder Roy Wood and the aforementioned guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin, who would end up replacing Steve Howe in a reformed Yes in 1983. Rabin, in a filmed 1984 interview included in the DVD 9012Live, said that his involvement with Asia never went anywhere because “there was no chemistry” among the participants.
The band’s first recordings, under the auspices of Geffen record label head David Geffen and Kalodner, were extremely popular with record buyers, while considered disappointing by music critics and fans of progressive rock, who found the music closer to radio-friendly album-oriented rock (AOR). However, Asia clicked with fans of popular arena acts such as Journey, Boston and Styx; Kalodner had once introduced Wetton to Journey’s short-lived frontman Robert Fleischman, with a view to Fleischman becoming Asia’s lead singer. As they worked on material together, Fleischman was impressed by Wetton’s singing and felt the voice best suited to the new material was Wetton’s own. He left Asia amicably.
Rolling Stone gave Asia an indifferent review, while acknowledging the band’s musicianship was a cut above the usual AOR expectations.
Asia’s eponymous debut album Asia, released in March 1982, gained considerable commercial success, spending nine weeks at number one on the United States album chart and selling over four million copies in the States alone. The album sold over 10 million worldwide and has never been out of print. The singles “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” became Top 40 hits, both boosted by popular MTV music videos. Both tracks went on to become stadium favourites at United States sporting events. “Sole Survivor” also received heavy air play on rock stations across the United States, as did “Wildest Dreams” (another MTV video) and “Here Comes The Feeling”. The band’s best performing single, and perhaps their most recognised and popular hit song, “Heat of the Moment”, spent six weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks chart and climbed to #4 on the Hot 100.
In the United States the band sold out every date on their debut tour, which began at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York on 22 April 1982, and continued in theatres but quickly expanded into massive arenas because of high ticket demand. Asia would go on to receive a Grammy Award nomination as Best New Artist of 1982. MTV also played Asia videos on heavy rotation—as many as five times a day. Both Billboard and Cash Box named Asia’s debut the #1 album of the year. Asia’s logo and cover art were created by illustrator Roger Dean of Yes and Uriah Heep fame.
Asia’s second album Alpha (released in July 1983) and future Asia albums did not achieve the chart success of their debut release; however, Alpha’s “Don’t Cry” was a #1 Album Rock Track and Top 10 Pop hit in the summer of 1983, and the video received considerable attention on MTV, while “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was another Top 40 hit for the band. The video for “Smile” also scored heavy MTV play. However, Rolling Stone criticized Alpha as an over-produced commercial album, while others stated that Howe and Palmer were effectively reduced to session musicians. Alpha received indifferent reviews from various critics, while attaining platinum status and reaching #6 on the Billboard album chart.
In October 1983 Wetton left the group after the comparatively disappointing sales of Alpha. The band stated that Wetton quit; Wetton stated that he was fired by phone; there is no universally-agreed version of what happened. Wetton later stated a factor may have been his alcohol dependency. The next leg of their 1983 United States tour (which began in the summer but shut down suddenly on 10 September following a performance at Pine Knob in Detroit), scheduled for the autumn, was abruptly cancelled, reportedly because of low ticket sales.
Alpha is the second studio album by British rock supergroup Asia, released on 26 July 1983 in the United States and on 12 August 1983 in the United Kingdom by Geffen Records. It was recorded at Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec, and Manta Sound in Toronto from February to May 1983. Alpha adopted a notably more polished sound with radio-friendly elements and less emphasis on progressive rock sections. Like its multi-platinum predecessor, the album was produced by Mike Stone. It was also the last album to feature the band’s original line-up for twenty-five years until Phoenix, which was released in 2008.
The cover artwork was designed by Roger Dean, known for his work with Yes, of which Howe and keyboard player Geoff Downes had previously been members.
After Asia wrapped up their world tour for the debut album, they opted to move to La Studio to record the followup. Inner band conflict ensued, particularly between John Wetton and Steve Howe over who was more responsible for the band’s initial success. Record label executives requested for most of the songs to be written by Wetton and Downes, which left Howe with very little to do in terms of writing. His only song credit, “Lying to Yourself”, was released as a B-side. The song “Don’t Cry” was written and added at the last minute, as the band felt the album lacked a strong opener. Due to tensions within the group, producer Mike Stone was put in charge of mixing the album, where technical glitches delayed its release by several months. The band was unhappy with his final mix, with Howe describing it as a “wall of sound”.
A music video was shot for “Don’t Cry”, reportedly costing over $100,000 to film due to the elaborate set designs involved in it.
The album reached number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart and has been certified platinum for over 1 million copies sold in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the album peaked at number 5 and has been awarded a silver certification for over 60,000 copies sold. Despite this, it failed to meet the expectations of the record company executives, who wanted it to match the sales of the debut album.
Alpha spawned two singles. The lead-off single, “Don’t Cry”, reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to the top of the Mainstream Rock chart. It was the sole Top 40 entry for Asia in the United Kingdom, peaking at number 33. The B-side of the single, “Daylight”, was featured as a bonus track on album original cassette editions. The second single, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”, reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 25 on the Mainstream Rock charts and was the group’s last major hit. Along with the singles, “The Heat Goes On” and “True Colors” were quite popular on mainstream rock radio stations.
The album has received lukewarm reviews from music critics. J. D. Considine in his review for Rolling Stone described Alpha as “a sort of sonic confection, a concoction of tasty melodies, sweet harmonies and goopy lyrics intended more for greedy consumption than for artistic appreciation”. Chas de Whalley of Kerrang! was less than restrained and openly said that “this album is complete and utter rubbish from beginning to end and a waste of the good vinyl it’s pressed on”. Tom Demalon has given the album a retrospective rating of three stars out of five on AllMusic. “Don’t Cry”, “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)” and “Open Your Eyes” have been selected as three “Track Picks”. He has compared the album with Asia and has summarized that “nothing on Alpha packs the sheer sonic force of the band’s debut”. ((wikipedia)
Geoff Downes (keyboards)
Steve Howe (guitar)
Carl Palmer (drums, percussion)
John Wetton (bass, vocals)
01. Don’t Cry 3.32
02. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes 3.12
03. Never In A Million Years 3.44
04. My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want) 4.48
05. The Heat Goes On 4.56
06. Eye To Eye 3.09
07. The Last To Know 4.39
08. True Colors 3.52
09. Midnight Sun 3.47
10. Open Your Eyes 6.25
11. Lyin’ To Yourself 4.15
All songs written by John Wetton and Geoff Downes
except 02., written by John Wetton
and 11. written by John Wetton and Steve Howe