(Above: And now you find yourself in ’82.)
Among the first stories that I read this morning was the sad news of the death of John Wetton at the age of 67. Wetton was a part of a group that isn’t often referred to as a “supergroup” anymore, Asia – although they definitely count as one.
Asia formed in 1981. Yes members Geoff Downes and Steve Howe, one-third of Emerson Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson’s Wetton got together and started making power pop. This came as somewhat of a disappointment to fans of the groups these guys came from, who were hoping for something more in the prog-rock vein.
But Asia hit at just the right time. MTV was starting to gain traction by 1982. Often we point to August 1981 as the MTV launch date, but relatively few people saw it then. Once the phenomenon of watching music caught on, and more people demanded “I want my MTV,” viewership increased. Enter the band’s debut album, with catchy songs set to polished videos that MTV placed into ultra-high rotation. Early MTV was unnaturally white and AOR-ish, and these songs fit that bill perfectly.
That was about the time I learned of the band. I was a freshman in high school in the fall of 1982, and we finally got cable installed that summer. I started consuming MTV in mass quantities. (Again, somewhere in my basement are “video mix tapes” I made collecting videos from the channel. I must go on the search for these.) Needless to say, I saw a lot of Asia, and I kind of liked it. I didn’t have the requisite rock knowledge yet at 13 to appreciate the history of the band, but the songs – and the visuals – worked for me.
“Heat of the Moment” was the first single to hit the airwaves. It peaked at #4 on Billboard and topped the Mainstream Rock chart, but to an MTV viewer it had to be #1. It was on all the time, and it was hard to miss all of those squares on the TV screen. In a pre-Video Toaster world, the image stood out. This wasn’t just a performance video shot on a camcorder, as much of early MTV contained. This was specifically manufactured to sell the song and the band. In terms of the album, it worked over ten million times. “Only Time Will Tell” will be immediately familiar to you as “the video with the gymnast in it.” At least that’s how I remember it.
If I had to pick one song from the band, though, I have to go with “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.” The second album, Alpha, didn’t do as well, but I had to have it as soon as it came out. “Don’t Cry” got all the airplay, as it was designed for pop radio, making #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart once again. But “Smile” came on MTV, and it caught my attention. First of all, it doesn’t look like a rock video. It looks like a movie of some sort – credits and all. It looks artsy. It looks like there’s more going on than meets the eye. And the song is – well, catchy. It’s a breakup song, released at a time in life when I had yet to experience one of my own. But from what the video sold me, they looked painful. If I had to make a list of my favorite MTV videos from back in the day, this one gets a spot on the list.
“The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” made #34 and represented the band’s last Top 40 song. A third album, Astra, yielded the single “Go,” which peaked at #46. The band’s last single, “Days Like These” (which I am pretty sure we played at WJEQ in Macomb) hit #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart but lacked crossover success, and represented the end of the line.
Your modern classic hits station probably has “Heat” or “Don’t Cry” in heavy rotation. They’re probably not playing this one, which is too bad. The picture it paints lyrically isn’t a pretty one, but the visual it conjures – beaming from a small set in a teenager’s house – is pretty striking.
You can see the video for “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” by clicking here.