March 18 – No Tension Between This Asia & America

The 1970s were Prog Rock’s glory days but that genre had fallen on hard times in the early-goings of the ’80s. The new wave had washed bands like Duran Duran, Soft Cell and the Human League to the top of the charts, Genesis had gone quite pop-py without Peter Gabriel and several of the form’s most beloved acts had called it quits. So it was that the time was right for Asia. Their self-titled debut came out on this day in 1982.

Asia was a super-group formed the year before with drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoffrey Downes, guitarist Steve Howe and bassist John Wetton. On top of that another keyboardist, Rick Wakeman was enlisted, but dropped out before they ever got to the London studios to begin work. Palmer was of course one-third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer who’d gone on hiatus in 1979. Wetton had been in King Crimson until they broke up in ’74 (as it happened they re-formed around the same time he joined Asia, the band he decided to choose) and had done some work with Roxy Music along the way. Howe and Downes had both been in Yes, which had broken up in ’81 (but would soon reunite.)

One might imagine with a lineup like that, the result would be pompous, over-the-top 15 minute, elaborate suites as part of a high concept album complete with long drum solos and a few avante garde spoken word bits, especially since the album cover (a giant sea snake jumping out of the water reaching for a globe) was painted by Roger Dean who’d done several Yes album covers. But you’d actually be off the mark. Either the members tastes had changed over the past decade or their desire to have a hit album that connected with the masses had increased. Either way, Geffen Records got them to work with producer Mike Stone for the debut. Stone had worked in the studio with Queen throughout the ’70s and more recently had produced hits for Journey and April Wine. He clearly helped them put together a record that would fit right in on FM rock stations with those bands as well as the likes of Van Halen and Foreigner.

And that it did. Wetton and Downes wrote most of the 11 song album which, as Best Classic Bands noted was able to “appeal to longtime prog rock acolytes but also conform to the tastes of the emerging MTV generation.” Indeed, while the sound was big and bombastic, and exquisitely played, as you’d guess, it consisted of comparatively short, pop-based songs complete with catchy choruses. While “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” were released as singles, a trio of other songs – “Sole Survivor”, “Time Again” and “Wildest Dreams” – joined them on the radio getting decent airplay.

Little wonder then that the album hit #1 in the U.S. and Canada. The States loved it especially, with it reaching #1 for nine weeks and ending up as the year’s biggest-seller. “Heat of the Moment” topped rock charts and was a #4 single. Back home though, enthusiasm was dampened, with it stalling at #11 and only selling to gold levels compared to the 4X platinum in the U.S.

Critics saw that in varied light. While Robert Christgau cringed about the “pompous schlock in the grand manner,” Billboard figured it “sounds fresh and perfect fare for “ FM rock. Years later, allmusic gave it 4.5-stars, best in their catalog (believe it or not they’ve put out 13 studio albums in total, with several different lineups). They considered it “the success story of 1982”, a success “despite going against the grain of the new wave stylings of the day”.

So even though their next album sold only about a quarter as many copies, it seems that when it comes to musical continents of the ’80s, “Asia” beat both “Europe” and “America” rather handily.


20 thoughts on “March 18 – No Tension Between This Asia & America

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    9 straight weeks…that is impressive. I think they knew a prog album would not fly at that time and I would imagine the record company put some pressure also. These songs connect me with Jr High and High School.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was a good album. It was similar to what Rush was doing by then, cutting back on the excesses & length of the songs ,making them snappy, more conventional rock songs. I didn’t hear anything much from them later on that impressed me though…I was surprised how many albums they’d done.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Yes everyone was doing it… Gregg Allman even said in interviews that they cut back even playing live…I guess the only band not affected by this was The Grateful Dead…they just did what the hell they wanted.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. it might have been spurred on a little by MTV – they by and large wouldn’t want 15 minute videos – but it was probably a change that was due anyway. I think that was a lot of what really got punk and early new-wave going, a sort of reaction to the remarkably long, complicated pieces by the prog rock bands and some others.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Badfinger (Max)

        Yea that helped no doubt because you had to have a video. Allman said in the 90s they started to go back to what they were…because that is when the big classic era began.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. When someone says ‘super group’, this is the first band and album I think of. It may be the first time I heard that term used. (There were certainly super groups before this, e.g., Cream, but I was too young to know what that was.) Some of my friends were really excited when this album came out, but on hearing it, I felt it was totally commercialized and uninteresting. So fast forward to their second album, and from that one, I did love ‘The Smile Has Left Your Eyes’. They managed to grow on me. I appreciate both albums now, way more than I did back then.

    In 2019, I got to see them perform their Asia hits on tour, along with hits from their interrelated groups, Yes, and even the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. With their different band connections, they were basically a traveling music festival. Carl Palmer and Steve Howe were still amazing to see and hear live. I was blown away.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, that’s neat seeing them live & playing all those different songs. Do you recall who else was in Asia in ’19? They’ve changed rosters, so to speak, quite a bit.


      1. I’ve slept since then, and now really only specifically remember Palmer and Howe. Here is an article about their tour. The most fun, along from the Buggles song, was the opening artist, crazy Arthur Brown opened the show with Fire. 😀 He wasn’t listed on the bill, so that was a total surprise.

        I blogged about the concert, and here’s what I had to say about it back then.

        Jon Anderson was on his own tour around that time, and was scheduled to perform here in Wichita, but then cancelled. I had thought I was going to be privileged to see two versions of Yes in one summer! But it wasn’t to be.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for that . I just read your blog, seems like a great concert & trip. Someday I wouldn’t mind doing an Amtrak trip like that. Love trains, can’t stand flying. Way back in late ’80s I took a train (Via, Canadian equivalent of Amtrak) from my city in Ontario to the Atlantic coast and back. Was a fairly cool, though time-consuming, trip.


      3. My pleasure! I look back and realize what a rare treat that concert was. And I don’t think it was one of the well-publicized ones that summer. It was certainly worth the trip.

        My disdain for air travel is at an all-time high right now, and it’s nice to have options. We are lucky to have Amtrak in the region, but yes, it does take time. And if a train is running late, it could throw your travel plans off by a half day or full day.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Amtrak runs through a town about 10 miles out of here, on the same route I imagine DFW to San Antonio, then I believe it goes westward. ground travel is always tricky in terms of schedule. I came here to Texas the first couple of times via Greyhound, and that was always ‘interesting’. You see a lot of the country that way, or by train compared to flying.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’d love to have your Amtrak options in Texas as well.

        Oh my, don’t get me started on the ‘Hound. I tried that for a concert trip in 2016, and have always meant to do a blog post on the nightmarish experience. Seeing the country, and being able to work and stay in touch via wifi is great, for the train and bus options…as long as they at least make an effort to get you where and when your ticket says you are supposed to go.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The singles were good, no objections to hearing them now but getting the CD now is pretty low on my list of pressing concerns. Mind you, to me, both ‘Heat…’ & ‘Only time will tell’ have aged so much better than that year’s big rock anthem, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ yet are remembered less.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They were catchy singles, no question. It is a different world now, that’s for sure. Same with movies…do you remember newspaper entertainment sections of the ’70s…two or three pages of ads for movies playing in town & it was prestige when they ran long runs, which they’d often do. ‘Now in it’s 16th week!’ kind of ribbon design over the ‘Jaws’ poster…now typically if you want to see it on the big screen, you probably have 2 weekends to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Songs with catchy melodies under 6 minutes is the kind of prog rock I find pretty accessible. Of course, this coming from somebody who always has had a complicated relationship with prog rock – and jam rock, for that matter.

    Give me one kickass guitar solo and, yeah, throw in a great keyboard solo, but don’t engage in musical porn by doing a seemingly endless series of solos or other musical parts where when it’s all over I forgot how the song started!😆

    That said, I do like some “traditional” prog rock like Yes and early Genesis. And, as I always like to add, Pink Floyd is progressive rock as well, in addition to psychedelic!

    Coming back to Asia, “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” are just bloody catchy tunes!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s