Asia - Biography
I asked for Asia because I thought it would be easy. You know, they were a one-hit, post-prog, quasi-supergroup wonder, rising from the ashes of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and I could just sort of skip and hop and blather through it, and fan out my verbal tail feathers, and tell you that their goshawful, excruciatingly glossy and crass debut was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and be done with it. But then I go to Wikipedia to dredge up whatever sort of details I’ll need (like, what was their album even called – I haven’t heard them since MTV in 1982), and I just deflate as I read: This flipping band is still together. It gets worse. As I write about rock bands, one thing constantly fascinates me: the sheer, breathtaking consistency of rock ‘n’ roll stereotypes and clichés – I mean, they’re all true, like rivets in the steel hull of a battleship. Not only is Asia still together, there are two competing versions of Asia, vying for supremacy on the RV & Boat Show circuit. This sort of thing happens over and over and over again.
Asia were – Asia are (arrrrghh) a prog-rock super group of sorts, one of several that made the transition from turgid 70s bombast to turgid 80s synth rock. Yes and Genesis managed it as well. To be accurate, Asia was formed as a turgid 80s synth-rock group, but several of its members did the turgid 70s thing. It was Geoff Downes on keys; he had been in the Buggles and Yes. Steve Howe was the guitarist in Yes. John Wetton had played bass for King Crimson (he’s on Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black), Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, and Wishbobe Ash; Carl Palmer was the drummer in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I suppose I can cut Asia some small degree of slack. Compared to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, they’re a model of economy, efficiency, and good taste. David Geffen helped assemble the group.
Sometimes it’s not a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll, not when you’re buddies with David Geffen. The debut LP, Asia (Geffen, 1982), spent nine weeks at #1. There were a couple of Top 40 singles, the biggest being “Heat of the Moment.” It’s glossy and slick, full of elegant bombast, and they do demonstrate a degree of restraint, given their various resumes. Instead of going horzontal with sprawling, noodling solos, the music goes vertical; it’s vast stacks of multi-track flapjacks, slathered in syrup. Asia definitely fell into the same arena-rock category as REO Speedwagon, Journey, Styx, Boston, Foreigner, et cetera. Reviews were restrained. They sold out every show on their tour, graduating from theaters to stadiums, and they owned MTV. For a moment, Asia were the biggest band on the planet.
For a moment. The follow-up LP, Alpha (Geffen, 1983), sold decently, and made it to #6 despite the negative reviews; the single “Don’t Cry” reached the Top 10. Wetton drank too much, so the others kicked him out, even though he was the lead singer and co-wrote all the material. Greg Lake from ELP replaced him. The US tour was canceled due to poor ticket sales. They were popular in Japan, at least. In 1984 Lake was out and Wetton back in; then Howe was replaced by Mandy Meyer from Krokus. Astra (Geffen, 1985) bombed. There was no public interest for a US tour. They broke up. Sometimes it’s not even a long way to the bottom if you want to rock ‘n’ roll.
Not so fast. You didn’t think we’d get off the hook so easy, did you? Despite a complete lack of interest in the US, the band reunites, with a revolving door membership and a tour of the USSR and a South American tour and a contribution to Over the Top, Sylvester Stallone’s masterpiece about arm wrestling and the rest of the band’s history to date reads like convoluted gibberish because it is convoluted gibberish. Since 1987, Asia, in one form or another, has had 29 members. In 1991, Geoff Downes, the only original member left, brings in John Payne on vocals and bass. Then in 2006, Downes leaves to join a reunion of the original line-up, and now there are two versions of Asia:
“The Original Members of Asia”
Geoff Downes - keyboards, backing vocals
John Wetton - lead vocals, bass, guitar
Steve Howe - guitar, mandolin, backing vocals
Carl Palmer - drums, percussion
"Asia Featuring John Payne"
John Payne - lead vocals, bass, guitar
Guthrie Govan - guitar
Jay Schellen - drums and percussion
Erik Norlander – keyboards
The John Payne version of Asia has released over fifteen albums. I really don’t condone this sort of thing.