Asia began with the apparent demise of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, two of the flagship bands of British progressive rock. After the break-up of King Crimson in 1974, various plans for a super group involving bassist John Wetton had been mooted, including the abortive British Bulldog project with Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman in 1976. In 1977, Bruford and Wetton were reunited in UK, along with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Their eponymous debut was released in 1978. By 1980, after UK's demise, a new super group project was suggested involving Wetton, Wakeman, drummer Carl Palmer and (then little known) guitarist Trevor Rabin, but Wakeman walked out of the project shortly before they were due to sign to Geffen and before they had ever played together. Rabin, in a filmed interview from 1984 and included in the recently released and updated DVD 9012Live, said that his involvement with this project never went anywhere because "there was no chemistry" among the participants.
In early 1981, Wetton and Yes guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start working and writing. They were eventually joined by Carl Palmer, and finally by Howe's recent Yes cohort, keyboardist Geoff Downes.
Asia's eponymous debut album, released in March 1982, received 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. The singles "Only Time Will Tell" (#17) and "Heat of the Moment" (#4) became huge Top 40 hits, with the latter cracking the Top Five, and remaining a stadium favourite at U.S. sporting events. "Sole Survivor" also received heavy air play on rock stations across the US, as did "Wildest Dreams".
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 because of 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 were handled by famed illustrator Roger Dean of Yes and Uriah Heep fame.
"Don't Cry" was a Top Ten single in the summer of 1983 and the video was received considerable play 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. The video for "Smile" also scored heavy MTV play. But Rolling Stone panned Alpha as an over-produced commercial album, while others lamented that Howe and Palmer were effectively reduced to session musicians. The tracks "Eye To Eye" and "My Own Time" became huge fan favourites. "Open Your Eyes" and "The Heat Goes On" became concert staples. Alpha received indifferent reviews from various critics, while still attaining platinum status. Alpha reached #6 on the USA Billboard album chart.
In October 1983, Wetton was forced out of the group on the heels of the comparatively disappointing sales of Alpha. The band stated that Wetton quit and it remains debatable to this day what really happened. In any event, the next leg of their 1983 US tour, scheduled for the fall, was abruptly cancelled, reportedly because of low ticket sales. Ex-King Crimson and ELP front man Greg Lake replaced Wetton for the highly publicised "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. Some of the songs had to be played in a lower key to suit Lake's voice and he read most of the lyrics from a teleprompter. 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 supergroup, formed with Steve Hackett of Genesis and produced by Downes. 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 on 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. A video was planned but was scrapped because various problems hampered the single's chance at the Top 40. Asia received the RIAA Gold album award for Then and Now many years later, but the initial response was poor as the album failed to dent the Top 100.
Several new studio and live albums have been released with the original lineup of Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer.