British progressive/arena rock supergroup Asia has withstood its share of mockery in pop culture circles over the years, but the truth is that the band forged a unique blend of instrumental bombast and irresistible hooks that certainly has its moments. In its original and most impressive incarnation, the group produced only three studio albums during the first half of the '80s. Nevertheless, Asia's best work finds distinctive ways of demonstrating both the power and majesty of rock when it dares employ equal parts guitars, synthesizers and fist-pumping, grandly melodic flourishes. Here's a chronological look at Asia's best songs of the '80s.
Aside from its clear status as Asia's most famous song and biggest pop hit, this rousing arena rock anthem also features an irresistible power chord riff that novice guitar players (one of whom shall remain nameless) certainly played a few times during the '80s. It also happens to be a tight arrangement and a genuinely passionate lyrical take on the dangers of... well, too much passion. The track perfectly combines the precise guitars of Steve Howe with Geoff Downes' grand keyboard layers, and the vocals of John Wetton prove unmistakably that he was and is one of music's greatest clear-voiced straight-ahead rock singers of the past 40 years.
Somehow this song failed to become a major American pop hit (peaking at just No. 17), but that's certainly not the fault of its powerhouse keyboard riff that begins the track and remains its steadfast foundation throughout. Much of the attention given to this band certainly has tended toward frontman Wetton and well-regarded guitar technician Howe, but Downes provides much of the style and theatrical charisma to Asia's music. This song is a celebration, to be sure, of its cowriters (Downes and Wetton) and their seam-bursting sonic vision, but it's also just a damn fine complex rock song that manages to hold very few dated musical elements. "It really comes as no surprise... to find that you planned it all along." Overall, a highly satisfying, multi-instrumental thrill ride.
Another sprawling effort that reaches far beyond the typical length of a rock single, this muscular track features powerful musicianship from all four members. Particularly noticeable is the rhythm section in this case, as Palmer's intense pounding on the drums coupled with Wetton's chugging bass help keep the machine rumbling along nicely. Of course, Downes and Howe have their moments as well, maintaining the comfort and satisfaction of fans who love the virtuoso element of Asia. As usual for this band, the anthemic chorus pales a bit to the melodic heights reached in the verses, but this is undoubtedly prime Asia for those inclined to appreciate the group beyond merely the big hits.
5. "Don't Cry"
This romantically opulent power ballad became Asia's second and final Top 10 pop hit in 1983, and soon after its release the band's momentum began to plummet. Nevertheless, despite a somewhat simplistic title phrase and a chorus that is a bit of a letdown probably even for the band's most staunch defenders, this is another fine example of a skilled blend of ambitious progressive rock impulses and direct melodic rock. Like "Only Time Will Tell," this track boasts an exemplary musical intro that serves as the central theme for everything to follow. That's more than enough to make for a compelling listening experience for all but the most calloused and rigidly principled of mainstream rock fans. There's nothing experimental or rebellious to be found here, but those not demanding such flourishes will not be disappointed.