I know this doesn’t really belong here, but I don’t care. I need to pay homage to someone whose music influenced me.
Recently, John Wetton, songwriter/bass player extraodinaire died. If you don’t know who that is, he was responsible for the voice and bass of the rock band Asia. He was someone I looked up to (as a musician) and someone whose work inspired me throughout his career. He early bass playing with King Crimson was just an amazing testament to how a bass can start to be a lead instrument. His voice was strong and powerful, and his sense of music was breathtaking. His work in the band UK was phenomenal, but his true legacy would be working in Asia.
Why is this here? This is a CO-OP board games list! To my mind, one of the most amazing collaborations in music history is the song-writing duo of Wetton/Downes. How much work does it take to write songs together? Consistently good songs over decades of Asia and the Icon project. In my mind, the friendship of John Wetton and Geoff Downes was one of the hallmarks of cooperation. You liked their music that much more because they were friends. They cooperated well.
When I found out John Wetton had died, I turned up the music on the way to work and cried in my car as I sang along with “Let Me Go” (from the Wetton/Downes Icon project). I had to learn to let John go. I got a chance to see him on his last tour when they came through Tucson on the (under-appreciated) “Gravitas” tour. His voice was amazing, and the last show I saw with John was with Geoff, Carl, and Sam, second row. I’ll miss you and your music John.
Here are the top 11 John Wetton musical moments. These aren’t the big songs, these are my personal favorite John Wetton songs. I’ve also included links to YouTube videos. Some Honorable Mentions: Let Me Go (from Icon), Never Again (from Phoenix), and Battlelines (from Battlelines solo album).
11. Anything from the (USA) Live Album, by King Crimson.
I like Wetton-era King Crimson, but I think the live version of that material is better than the studio versions. The studio versions always came off as dry to me. The live versions of all these songs has more energy and passion. If you can only get one album of Wetton from the King Crimson days, I’d get the live USA album. (You’ll notice Eddie Jobson on the credits on this album, and we’ll see more of him later on). John’s bass playing is just great. His singing is great too, but this album is NOT a pop album. He doesn’t sing too much, but his bass playing is very frontward facing.
10. “Hold Me Now” from Battlelines solo Album or Chasing the Dragon (live solo album)
This is a beautiful song. I think the live version might be better. It showcases Wetton’s strong, great voice. And he can pull it off live.
9. “Finger on the Trigger” either from Icon II (with Wetton/Downes) or Omega (re-recorded with Asia)
When I first got the Asia Omega album, I was like “Wait a minute! I know this song!” They re-recorded this from Wetton/Downes Icon II. And you can see why! It’s a great upbeat, rocking song. I miss some of the Downes keyboard fills from the Icon version, but the Asia versions rocks that much harder with the Howe solo (somedays, Steve Howe can really play!). Shockingly, it’s a Wetton/Downes composition.
8. Tie: “Valkyrie” and/or “Gravitas” from the Gravitas album.
I loved the Steve Howe era of Asia with Wetton, but I think the last album with Asia Howe (XXX) was just ok. I think Howe leaving pushed them, and the resulting “Gravitas” album was phenomenal. I don’t know which songs I like best! The first two are both great songs! “Valkyrie” is definitely more poppy, but so catchy! My wife was singing it in the car (and she’s not really an Asia fan)! But “Gravitas” is almost a prog-rock song with a catchy, catchy chorus. I love this album, and the two leading songs are some of Wetton/Downes best work.
7. “In The Dead Of Night” from UK (by UK)
Before the super-group Asia, was the super-group UK. Bill Bruford on Drums, Eddie Jobson on keys/violin, Alan Holdsworth on guitar and John Wetton on Bass and vocals. This song leads off with John’s bass in an odd time signature. A spanning song that leads into a trilogy of songs. Definitely a prog rock song. John’s bass and singing is amazing.
I feel like the Wetton/Jobson team really gained ground here. Eddie Jobson was John’s writing partner for thre UK albums, and they wrote some amazing material. I am very sad UK broke up, because they were probably my favorite Wetton band. But, we saw what happens when Wetton teams up with a great keyboardist. This was, in some ways, the second greatest writing team of all time. And opened the door from the Wetton/Downes team.
6. “Heart of Darkness” from Welcome To Heaven solo album
Just a great song. It comes from a dark and lonely place in the verse, coming to a chorus full of hope. And the final outro feels like you finally found happiness. Just a great song that takes you on a journey. Another almost proggy, pop song.
5. “Carrying No Cross” from UK album Danger Money
See Wetton holding the Bass there? My senior picture was an attempt to recreate there. I was a huge Asia/UK fan back in high school.
After Asia “imploded” (when Wetton was forced out of the band for Greg Lake), I went looking for other Wetton music! I remember when I found Danger Money. What a great album!
My favorite song on the album is the giant opus, Carrying No Cross. It’s full of white space, John’s great bass and singing, and some really choice music. This song is a very under-appreciated prog rock gem: I think it’s better than most Yes long prog songs (and yes, I am a huge Yes fan).
4. “Open Your Eyes” from Alpha (by Asia)
The greatest album of all time: Asia/Alpha. I know a bunch of people who would disagree with me, and point to Asia/Asia and Sole Survivor and the “hits”. But, I love every single song on this album! I love the singing, the guitar, the arrangements, the harmonies, the drums, the keyboards, the odd collection of time signatures. The singles from this album, musically, were much stronger than the singles from Asia/Asia. “Don’t Cry” has the AMAZING drum intro with Carl palmer, the hooky chorus, and subtle and underappreciated rhythm guitars of Steve Howe. Holy cow! (We’ll talk about the other single in a bit).
But, “Open Your Eyes” was just such a great song. It was an prog rock song on a pop album. They still play it live, even though it was never a single from the album! That’s how great this song was. It’s hard to pick a favorite song on this album, but this is my second favorite song from Alpha.
Oh yes, It’s a Wetton/Downes song.
3. “Extraordinary Life” from Phoenix (by Asia)
This was probably the strongest song from Asia’s Phoenix, but for some reason they had some trouble pulling it off live when I saw them on the Phoenix tour. I think it’s because it’s a song of “white space”, where the song needs to breathe and go from intro to verse to chorus very deliberately. In a rock concert setting, it’s too noisy to pull off the nuance of this song.
This song is about hope. Almost about convincing yourself: you can hear the strain of the verse about how it delivers the words in a minor key, as if trying to convince himself. Then, he believes it in the chorus as we switch to a major key with expansive harmonies. The verse is about living the roller coaster of life, and the chorus is about enjoying that ride.
For a while, this song would make me cry whenever I heard it, as it reminded me of a lost girlfriend. It’s just a great, emotional song. Another Wetton/Downes tune.
2. Side 1 of the “Night After Night” Album (by UK)
This LIVE album is one of my desert island albums: If I were stuck on a desert island with only a few CDs, what would I choose? I would choose this one.
First off, this doesn’t sound like a live album! Holy cow! Three guys pull off some amazing music LIVE. This is, in some ways, the peak of Wetton for me. His voice was STRONG and his bass playing was STRONG: the perfect combination. This album is where we see the best of Wetton as a singer and bass player.
And these songs are just so catchy. I can’t hear these songs and not sing along. This album side just makes me happy. Night After Night, Rendezvous 6:02, Nothing to Lose, and As Long As You Want Me Here. What a great album side!
2. “To Catch a Thief” from Icon II (by Wetton/Downes)
Another Wetton/Downes masterpiece.
This is a rare duet with John and Anneke van Giersbergen. It’s just a beautiful song. The two voices dive back and forth and just blend so well. This song just exhausts me emotionally because it’s so powerful. It’s too bad this was never a single: I think it would have done really well.
1. “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” from Alpha (by Asia).
This is a sad song, written by John for his buddy, Geoff Downes, who was going through some hard time. The song moves through 3 key changes, with soaring guitars, amazing drums, great keys, and John’s voice.
It’s a testament to friendship of John Wetton and Geoff Downes. I think this is what made them the greatest writing team of all time. They were friends. They augmented each other as players. They worked together. And Wetton/Downes made some amazing music.
This song has an interesting history: when John Payne joined Asia, he did say he would never sing this song, as it was John Wetton’s song. Only John Wetton could pull this off. I think this song is special to Geoff and John.
Another little interesting tidbit: As John Wetton was getting thrown out of Asia (for the Asia in Asia Japanese tour back in 1985), this song was climbing the charts. If they had left John in Asia, I suspect this song would have done a LOT better. Greg Lake couldn’t pull this song off live (his voice has a different range), and I think his performance in that worldwide live concert hurt the single. It should have been a number 1. Well, it is here. On my chart.
This song is also special to me in many other ways.
The video shows the sad story of a little girl dealing with her parent’s divorce, and the only place she finds refuge is in the song. My parent’s were going through a divorce at this time, and this song gave me some refuge as well. That meant something special to me too.
This song was also my first “solo” performance in college (I played solo guitar and sang it). I was never a great singer, but I came a much better musician later on in life. The Wetton-era Asia always inspired me.
In the End, John Wetton was very influential on me. I will miss him sorely: I know a lot of musicians have been dying lately, but Wetton was the only one I cried over. His music really meant something to me.
Goodbye John, I’ll miss you. Rest in Peace.