40 Years Ago: Asia Makes a ‘Complete Mistake’ by Rushing ‘Alpha’
Topping a four-times platinum album on a quick turnaround can be a challenge, even for a supergroup. Asia learned that the hard way with their sophomore album, Alpha, released in August 1983.
Riding high on the success of their self-titled debut and its massive lead single "Heat of the Moment," the British quartet — featuring members of Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer — headed back into the studio less than a year after its release.
Despite their collective talents and a familiar producer, they were unable to reach the same glorious heights with their second album.
Asia Members Unhappy With The Mix
The way guitarist Steve Howe tells it, no one in Asia was pleased with Alpha. "The whole thing got out of control," he told Classic Rock in 2020. "None of us were happy with the mix of the second album, Alpha."
The album found Asia once again partnering with producer Mike Stone, who had previously worked with Queen and Journey. Howe credited Stone for the polished sound of "Heat of the Moment," which he called "Journey-esque" in interviews.
"Asia thought it had established something on the first album, and what it thought it could do on the second album was really — dare I say the word 'capitalize' — but capitalize and also kind of commercialize," Howe told Goldmine in 2001. "And this is part of the Asia goal, to have this sort of '80s, you know, sound."
Drummer Carl Palmer echoed that sentiment in the 2016 book Time and a Word: The Yes Story, but he admitted their plans went awry. "The second album was a complete mistake and was put together, possibly, through greed and the 'chasing the single' syndrome," he said. "It was just full of pop tunes that just died miserably."
Propped Up by the Success of 'Don't Cry'
Despite underperforming its predecessor, Alpha still sold more than a million copies in the United States and another 60,000 in the United Kingdom off the strength of its lead single, "Don't Cry."
Singer and bassist John Wetton shared in Time and a Word: The Yes Story that "Don't Cry" was a late addition to Alpha after Geffen claimed it didn't hear a single on the initial version of the album. He and keyboardist Geoff Downes quickly banged out the song, which climbed to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983.
Watch Asia's 'Don't Cry' Video
"We actually wrote it in a bit of a hurry, because we felt we didn't have the right track to kick the album off with," Downes said in the 2004 Asia biography The Heat Goes On. "I had an idea, John had another idea and we cemented them together."
Its follow-up single, the ballad "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes," was less successful, peaking at No. 34 on the Hot 100.
Unfavorable Critical Reception
Critics were less than thrilled with Alpha as well. A contemporary Creem magazine review argued that the band needed to better showcase Howe's talent.
"Now you might wonder where Steve Howe is in all of this," critic Michael Davis wrote (as quoted in The Heat Goes On). "Excellent question. Out to lunch is the answer, probably munching sprout sandwiches underneath one of Downes' synthesizers."
By that point, the band's downward spiral was underway. Wetton left Asia for the first time in October 1983, setting off a string of lineup changes. He would return sporadically over the years until he died in 2017.
Asia's third album, 1985's Astra, fared much worse, stalling at No. 67 on the Billboard 200. They disbanded the following year and wouldn't release another full-length studio album until 1992's Aqua.