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Photo Credit: Roger Dean

Largely due to his full-time commitment to his work in Yes, guitarist Steve Howe has departed from the Asia lineup multiple times throughout the progressive rock supergroup’s expensive career. Yet, unless you placed significant attention towards the performing lineup in the liner notes within eight of the band’s studio efforts, including the most recent ‘Gravitas,’ chances are you wouldn’t notice the absence of Howe within the Asia songwriting chemistry.

The reason for this is that Asia continued to enlist the assistance of renowned guitarists from within the rock community to continue their consistently advancing approach, which included members of such groups as Krokus, Thin Lizzy and Toto. Between the band’s seemingly nonpunishable sound and the always engaging album artwork by veteran artist Roger Dean, familiar listeners wouldn’t even question a lineup change: and how could they?

While the contributions of Steve Howe are unquestionable, Asia’s ability to continue to create music which remain within the band’s distinctive territory without such a pivotal member from the band’s formation is noteworthy. Considering the latest addition of up-and-coming guitarist Sam Coulson, we are running through the top ten selections from Asia’s catalog following the departure of Howe.

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10) “Anytime”

From ‘Aria’ (1994)

The opening number from Asia’s fifth full-length studio album (with regards to the band’s equally notable half studio album, half compilation effort ‘Then & Now’) appeared following the somewhat controversial relaunch of the band two years prior. The original version of Asia, minus founding lead vocalist and bassist John Wetton, enlisted the assistance of new frontman John Payne, who had forged a solid reputation for his work with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, as well as a second guitarist, Al Pitrelli, later of Savatage and Megadeth. When Howe would once again leave soon following the release of 1992’s ‘Aqua,’ Pitrelli would take over as Asia’s sole guitarist and assist in forming such memorable songs as “Anytime.”

 

 
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9) “Summer (Can’t Last Too Long)”

From ‘Then & Now’ (1990)

Whether you consider Asia’s 1990 compilation album ‘Then & Now’ to be a hastily thrown together collection of both classic and new material, or rather a creative step towards the increasingly-common ‘Greatest Hits’ release, the effort is notable for introducing a variety of memorable collaborations with several well known musicians who wouldn’t had otherwise appeared on an Asia album. “Summer (Can’t Last Too Long)” is one of these same selections, which boasts an appearance by Thin Lizzy alumni Scott Gorham who is executes an energetic guitar solo atop of the song’s atmospheric synthesizer arrangements.

 

 
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8) “Voice of America”

From ‘Astra’ (1985)

Following the first departure of Steve Howe shortly following the release of Asia’s second studio album ‘Alpha,’ the band recruited rising musician Mandy Meyer, who had then-recently appeared with Survivor’s Jami Jamison on Cobra’s debut effort and would most recently rejoin Krokus as their third guitarist. The addition of Meyer attributed a hard rock-edge to the end result found on 1985’s ‘Astra,’ an album which ranks amongst the band’s best releases. The driving power chords found throughout the chorus of “Voice of America” serve as a warm resurgence of the striking energy found on the first two selections from Asia’s acclaimed debut, while also complimenting the song’s lush vocal melodies.

 

 
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7) “Prayin’ 4 a Miracle”

From ‘Then & Now’ (1990)

Ron Komie delivers one of his rarest rock performances on “Prayin’ 4 a Miracle,” another selection from the compilation effort ‘Then & Now.’ Komie has established a reputation as a Emmy-winning musician and composer, most readily known for his work in film and television, however one of the first appearances Komie made was during this same recording where he can be found playing a solid line of grounded chord progressions which lay down the framework for one of Asia’s heavier numbers.

 

 
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6) “Countdown to Zero”

From ‘Astra’ (1985)

The roar of plane engines begin the apocalypse-themed “Countdown to Zero,” which has Wetton telling the tale of a war and pollution-battered world damaged by acid rain and nuclear weapons. The song’s harrowing themes allow Meyer to deliver some of his most impressive work on the record, ranging from bursting guitar chords during the chorus to neck-spanning solos which lean into the song’s spoken word bridge.

 

 
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5) “Gravitas”

From ‘Gravitas’ (2014)

While some dedicated listeners questioned the appointing of up-and-coming guitarist Sam Coulson, whose online videos previously attracted the attention of such virtuoso players as Paul Gilbert and Walter Trout, before ultimately landing him the position as Asia’s current guitarist following Howe’s retirement from the band. Any disapproving preemptive notions were soon grated down, however, after Asia released their fourteenth studio album, ‘Gravitas,’ earlier in 2014. Such selections as the album’s epic seven-minute title track boast a revitalized take on the group’s classic approach, complete with complex synthesizer arrangements and slightly more embracive guitar work.

 

 

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4) “Days Like These”

From ‘Then & Now’ (1990)

The members of Asia fall into comfortable territory on the standout arena rock anthem “Days Like These,” a song written with the aid of former frontman for country rock band The Unforgiven, Steve Jones. Complete with a traditionally fist pounding chorus and the memorable keyboard work of Geoff Downes, the track served as an appropriately chosen lead single from ‘Then & Now,’ which was further enhanced by the guitar playing of Steve Lukather from Toto. The final complimentary notes which comprise Lukather’s scaling guitar solo serve as yet another highlight from the track.

 

 

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3) “After the War”

From ‘Astra’ (1985)

The monumental closing selection from ‘Astra’ continues the aforementioned theme of global conflict found during “Countdown to Zero.” The sonically captivating “After the War” implements the explosions of war heads which lead up to the song’s chorus, while delicate piano pieces, high octane synthesizers and the stellar approach of Meyer end the effort on a climatic high note. In particular, Meyer’s variety and skill makes this song difficult for Asia to bring out live, as he is found producing wild dueling guitar tracks ala Iron Maiden which would require a second guitarist to perform onstage, while also introducing articulate acoustic guitar towards the end of the piece.

 

 
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2) “Valkyrie”

From ‘Gravitas’ (2014)

Impressive vocal melodies and the crashing of symbols usher in the opening selection from Asia’s latest studio offering. “Valkyrie” shows the classic Asia sound from the band’s debut album brought up to date with a modernized production quality, more comfortable yet complex instrumental performances, the well-welcomed reappearance of power chords and a racing guitar solo. Sam Coulson proves to be a more necessary component to the 2014 Asia songwriting chemistry than anyone previously considered, and silences any precautions following the first wailing notes of his solo. It’s vividly evident that the guitar has once again become a dominant component in the Asia sound.

 

 

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1) “Go”

From ‘Astra’ (1985)

We conclude our countdown of the Top 10 Post-Steve Howe Asia Songs the knockout “Go” which begins our band of subject’s third studio album and only to feature Mandy Meyer on the six strings. Punishing distortion drives this anthemic opening track beyond any territory that Asia had previously ventured towards, and if further enhanced with shout-along vocal harmonies, rocketing synthesizers and backbone percussion. The members of Asia reach such a strong cohesiveness that the end product is downright standout, allowing the song to not only top our list but also rank amongst Asia’s strongest efforts.