Back in those heady days just out of high school when I was young and beautiful… well, young… and my ears worked perfectly… I was as big a fan of prog as anyone. I was into all the greats: Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Rush. All of them had survived the 1970s and were finding new life in new forms in the 80s.
So in the early 80s, I was ecstatic when I heard that former members of King Crimson, Yes, and ELP were joining forces. John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and Geoff Downes were forming a supergroup called Asia.
Why Asia? As manager Brian Lane explained, a shorter name means bigger letters on the marquee.
Imagine my surprise when Asia’s debut album came out. As Rolling Stone wrote, it was an exercise in prog-rock gods “rolling over and playing dead for radio airplay.” Asia had crashed the clubhouse where Journey, Boston, and Foreigner were hanging out counting their concert receipts.
I was hoping for some proggy 20-minute pieces exploring the outer rims of musical theory, so what was I to make of 4-minute hook-laden tailor-made for radio pop-rock confections like “Heat of the Moment,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and “Sole Survivor”?
Oh sure, there was “Wildest Dreams” on the album, pretty damn close to prog if you ask me. But mostly, it was just corporate rock.
But the more I listened to it, the more I heard that it wasn’t just corporate rock, it was well-made corporate rock. It was catchy. It stuck in my brain. It bore repeated listenings. It had its own sound.
And Fripp help me, the record became one of the most played in my album collection. And I was secretly fulfilled that my prog heroes were conquering the pop and rock charts. “I liked these guys before they were cool.”
To be fair, all the major proggers were trying to sound a little more accessible in the early 80s. Yes hit with 90125 and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Genesis were beginning their conquering of the charts with “Abacab,” “That’s All” and “Mama” (and later on, the monster that Invisible Touch became). Even King Crimson had joined forces with Adrian Belew for a more accessible, new wave-influenced sound on Discipline.
The Asia follow-up, Alpha, was a rushed affair, and it showed. The songs weren’t as developed, leaned much more into pop, and were drowned in reverb, but they still had that sound, and there were a couple of nice bits of candy in the grooves.
I was primed when the band announced that they would make history by performing a concert in Japan that would be the first carried by satellite as a live broadcast back to America.
Asia in Asia, it was billed. And set for December of 1983.
Only, problems were afoot. The lead singer, bass player, and chief songwriter John Wetton had left the band. Or been fired. Or some combination of the two. And time was running out before the tour.
Carl Palmer’s old ELP bandmate Greg Lake stepped into Wetton’s shoes, and somehow, it worked. Lake’s voice, a work of art on its own, was not in the same range as Wetton’s, so some of the songs had to be reworked, and Lake eschewed some of the higher wails Wetton nailed.
I bought the t-shirt, straight from MTV, which I wore as we rushed to the nearest TV to watch the broadcast. (The shirt is long gone. I outgrew it. Not mentally, mind you, but physically. Hey, we put on the pounds as we get older.)
The show was a huge success. The band was hotter than hell and such a joy to see as my guitar god Steve Howe was still able to play with fire & passion in those days. (Age has slowed him down since.)
There was a terrible VHS tape of the show and some bootleg audio recordings over the years. But in 2022, the original tapes were cleaned up, remastered, remixed, and officially released on a new CD. There’s also a super-deluxe box set featuring a cleaned-up video of the show along with some other goodies.
Listening to it, and reliving those heady days of 1983, is a pleasure.
Asia in Asia: Live at the Budokan Tokyo 1983 is available on CD, deluxe box set, and streaming services.