May 15, 1982: Debut Asia Album Hits #1

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By the early 1980s, progressive rock, usually just called prog, was still going strong, even though newer, simpler, more aggressive styles like punk and new wave were doing their very best to try to kill it. A large segment of the rock audience still preferred the more complex, ethereal concoctions of the prog bands—most of them British in origin—although they had to admit that there hadn’t been any new bands of note in several years to assume that mantle.

Until Asia. By sheer happenstance—or perhaps an alignment of greater forces—four musicians from top British prog bands had all shaken loose from those outfits and were now on their own, looking for something to do. In 1981, lead vocalist and bassist John Wetton of King Crimson, guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes of Yes and drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer found their way into one another’s company and began working on new material together. Signed to Geffen Records, they plotted with A&R man John Kalodner to assemble a set of material that would hopefully appeal to longtime prog acolytes but also conform to the tastes of the emerging MTV generation.

In March 1982, the quartet’s self-titled debut was released and although many music critics savaged it as a hackneyed throwback to the bloated rock punk had sought to replace, fans of prog and album-oriented rock (AOR) ate it up.

Related: John Wetton dies, January 2017

Asia in 1982 (l. to r.): John Wetton, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe

It took Asia several weeks but finally, it made its way to #1 on the Billboard albums chart for the week ending May 15, 1982. It ultimately stayed there for nine weeks, albeit non-consecutively. The album eventually sold some four million copies in the U.S. alone (10 million globally) and spawned the #4 hit single “Heat of the Moment” and the #17 “Only Time Will Tell.”

By 1983 there were already cracks in the group, with Wetton being replaced by ELP’s Greg Lake. A year later, Lake was out and Wetton back in place. Other fissures would develop, with members coming and going, all the way into the current year, Downes being the most consistent member.

Early this year, Asia announced that they would share a tour with Journey beginning in March, but just days later Wetton passed away from cancer. Several concerts were planned to honor the fallen musician but “for reasons beyond our control” those were canceled. Currently an interactive celebration of Wetton, titled “An Extraordinary Life,” is scheduled for June 17 in Englewood, N.J.

Watch the video of “Heat of the Moment”

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