“When they appeared in the early ‘80s, Asia seemed to be a holdover from the ‘70s, when supergroups and self-important progressive rockers reigned supreme. Featuring members of such seminal art rock bands as King Crimson (John Wetton), Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Carl Palmer), and Yes (Steve Howe), as well as Geoff Downes from the Buggles, Asia did feature stretches of indulgent instrumentals on their records. However, they also could be surprisingly poppy, and that is what brought them to the top of the charts with their debut album, Asia, and its hit single, Heat of the Moment. Alpha, their second album, also had a couple of hits…but its follow-up, Astra, was a flop. The group disbanded in 1985.” STE
By 1992, only Downes remained, although original members would drop in over the years as guest artists on Asia albums that featured John Payne as the lead vocalist. By 2007, a reunion tour was launched that brought the original four members back together, who also recorded 2008’s Phoenix reunion album – 25 years after the four had last worked together.
The Classic Lineup:
“Asia’s eponymous debut album, released in March 1982, enjoyed considerable commercial success, spending nine weeks at number one in the U.S. album chart and selling over 4 million copies in the US alone. The album sold over 10 million worldwide,” WK thanks to U.S. top 5 hit Heat of the Moment, top 20 follow-up Only Time Will Tell, and other rock radio hits, most notably Sole Survivor.
“In the US the band did extremely well, selling out every date on their debut tour, which began in theaters but quickly expanded into arenas due to high ticket demand. Asia would go on to receive a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist Of The Year. MTV also played Asia videos on heavy rotation....as many as 5 times a day. Billboard named the Asia debut as album of the year. Asia’s logo and cover art was handled by famed illustrator Roger Dean of Yes and Uriah Heep fame.” WK
“Asia became known as pioneers of phase two of the progressive rock era by avoiding long-winded forays, and by including…enough commercial polish to attract radio airplay outside of album-rock circles. Yes’ 90125 and Big Generator, …Emerson, Lake & Powell in 1986, and the GTR album would all follow in the Asia debut album’s footsteps.” WK
“Neither the second nor any following Asia album repeated the chart success of the first. Don’t Cry was a Top Ten single in the summer of 1983 and the video was played non-stop on MTV, while The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, a fan favourite for John Wetton’s vocal performance, charted inside of Billboard’s top 40.” WK “Alpha received indifferent reviews from various critics,” WK “Rolling Stone panned Alpha as an over-produced commercial album, while others lamented that Howe and Palmer were effectively reduced to session musicians.” WK
First Bump in the Road:
“In October 1983, Wetton was forced out of the group…[and] Ex-King Crimson and ELP front man Greg Lake replaced Wetton for the highly publicized ‘Asia in Asia’ concert at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan on Dec. 6, 1983, which was the first concert broadcast over satellite to MTV in the US and later made into a home video…Lake left in early 1984 and Asia reunited with Wetton that same year to start work on their next album. But Steve Howe soon left to be replaced by Krokus guitarist Mandy Meyer. Howe then enjoyed brief success with GTR, another super group.” WK
“The third Asia album, Astra, released in November 1985, was not as commercially successful as the first two. Geffen cancelled the projected tour due to lack of interest…Meyer…provided more of a hard-rock guitar approach” WK with his “guitar heroics center stage” WK on the band’s “modest charting single, Go, (#46).” WK “In 1986 this Asia line-up folded, bringing the group to an end for the time being.” WK
“Wetton and Downes’ attempt to restart the group in 1987 with guitarist Scott Gorham (formerly of Thin Lizzy) and drummer Michael Sturgis (ex-A-ha) fizzled when they were unable to land a recording deal.” WK Wetton and Palmer formed a version of Asia that toured in 1989 and finally “Asia returned to the studio in 1990 with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and other musicians (see discography below) and released Then & Now, a best-of with 4 new tracks. Pat Thrall joined Downes, Palmer, and Wetton, on tour and they performed classic material, including King Crimson and UK songs. The band toured the former Soviet Union in November 1990 to play in front of 20,000 fans, two sold out nights. Days Like These charted at #64 in 1990 and climbed all the way to #2 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.” WK
“John Wetton left in 1991 after a South American tour, disgusted by Asia’s lack of success in the States. He went on to focus on recording solo albums, none of which would yield any hits.” WK
The Payne Era:
In 1991, vocalist/bassist John Payne joined the band, and together with Geoff Downes, enlisted new musicians and led Asia through to 2005. The first album with this line-up, Aqua (1992), also featuring Steve Howe and Carl Palmer and new guitarist Al Pitrelli (ex-Alice Cooper)…Howe returned during the sessions having just left Yes, but Palmer would leave soon, committing to an ELP reunion, and was able to play on just three songs. Session men then completed the drumming. Downes’ environmentalist single Who Will Stop the Rain?…attracted some radio attention… Payne acquitted himself on the tour, but many fans refused to support an Asia lineup without Wetton.” WK
“The group released Aria in 1994 and Arena in 1996…Al Pitrelli…would leave…during the short Aria tour. This illustrates how the keyboard-driven band often faced trouble keeping a regular guitarist. Aria did not fair well commercially and the ensuing tour was limited to four concerts. Ex-Simply Red guitarist Aziz Ibrahim took over during the tour.” WK Aria also brought Sturgis, from the aborted 1987 reunion and “some of the sessions for Aqua,” WK back into the fold.
“Over New Year’s Eve in 1996 a broken pipe inundated the control room in Downes and Payne’s record studio, Electric Palace, in London. Amid the lost equipment, a vault containing unreleased material was found intact. The band decided to release the double-disc Archiva, a collection of unreleased tracks recorded during the first three Downes/Payne albums.” WK
“Next, Arena featured Downes, Payne, Sturgis, Ibrahim and guest guitarist Elliot Randall…The album featured Asia’s longest track ever in The Day Before the War. The album was released on Resurgence Records but there was no tour due to lack of interest.” WK
“In 1999 there was talk of a reunion of the original lineup (minus Howe)…While Howe was interested in participating, he was unable due to his busy schedule with Yes. This reunion did not take place and John Payne continued to carry on Asia with Downes,” WK eventually recording 2001’s Aura, the band’s first studio release in five years. Howe did make a guest appearance, as did Thrall, Sturgis, Randall, and former Saga guitarist Ian Crichton, “who’d briefly joined Asia in 1998-1999.” WK The album “took a more progressive rock form, but still did not recapture the commercial success of the first album.” WK
Three years later, in “a departure from convention, for the first time, a studio release was not titled as a single word starting and ending with the letter A…2004’s Silent Nation (name influenced by the Howard Stern vs. FCC incident) picked up some unexpected exposure on the Internet…Meanwhile, Wetton and Downes released some archival Asia material under the name Wetton/Downes and they then reunited to record a full-length album, Icon, released in 2005.” WK
“In August 2005, Chris Slade left the group to be replaced by Jay Schellen. The new band started work on an album, tentatively entitled Architect of Time, which was originally planned for release in 2006, though later developments would cause this project to be shelved for the time being.” WK
“Geoff Downes and the other three original members (Wetton, Palmer, and Howe) convened a group meeting in England in early 2006 in anticipation of formally reforming for work that year. And after a slew of rumours, they announced that this original line-up of Asia were planning a CD, DVD and world tour to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary. The band appeared in October 2006 on U.S. cable channel VH-1 Classic and began a world tour largely focused on the U.S….The setlist featured most of the first album as well as a couple of songs from the second, along with one selection each from Yes, ELP, King Crimson and the Buggles to acknowledge the history of each member of the band.” WK
“In 2007, the band released Fantasia: Live in Tokyo on CD and DVD…commemorating the 25th Anniversary and documenting the success of the 2006-2007 tour.” WK Then, “in mid-2007, all four original members…went into the studio to record a new album, marking the first recorded material from all four original members since 1983’s Alpha….Major heart surgery for Wetton in the second half of the year saw remaining tour dates rescheduled for 2008. The new studio album, entitled Phoenix, …includes An Extraordinary Life based on Wetton’s experience of ill health…The world tour features a couple of the new songs. The album cover features Roger Dean’s illustration and design.” WK
The reunion didn’t stop there, though. The foursome enjoyed working together enough to make another album, Omega, in 2010 and supported it with continuous touring.
The Other Asia:
Payne, Govan, and Schellen, who had all worked on 2004’s Silent Nation, “continued working together after Downes’ departure…on what had been planned as the next Asia album, Architect of Time. They began to work under the name GPS with Ryo Okumoto of Spock’s Beard on keys,” WK eventually releasing 2006’s Window to the Soul. In 2007, Erik Norlander replaced Okumoto in the new lineup, now known as ‘Asia Featuring John Payne.”
“The official websites of each band reflect a split between the shared history of Payne’s tenure with the band, as the reunited Asia acknowledge only pre- and post-Payne albums, whereas ‘Asia Featuring John Payne’ claim Payne-era albums Aqua through Silent Nation as part of their own discography.” WK