Take 5: Five John Wetton Recordings You Should Know
John Wetton was best known as the lead singer and bassist with Asia. Between 1982 and 1990 the supergroup landed ten singles on the U.S. mainstream hit singles chart; half of those came from the band’s self-titled debut album. Asia was indeed a bonafide supergroup, featuring musicians who had long since established themselves with other bands: guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), keyboardist Geoff Downes (The Buggles), and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer) joined Wetton to make some of the most commercially successful music of their lives.
Wetton’s musical pedigree was varied and impressive as well; in the years before launching Asia, he worked as a member of some of music’s most innovative and groundbreaking (albeit not always commercially successful) groups. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. Just last week an all-star concert was staged in his memory and honor. Here are five notable tracks featuring the acclaimed bassist-vocalist.
Mogul Thrash – “Sleeping in the Kitchen” from Mogul Thrash (1970)
This British progressive jazz-rock band released its debut single in 1970, followed by a self-titled album (produced by Brian Auger) a few months later. But despite a promising start, management woes led to the band’s dissolution shortly thereafter. Today Mogul Thrash is chiefly remembered as an early proving ground for Wetton (who went on to join Family) and saxophonists Malcolm Duncan and Roger Ball, both of whom soon founded Average White Band. Wetton’s assured basswork is a key to this song’s appeal.
Family – “Between Blue and Me” from Fearless (1971)
Drawing equally from hard rock and English folk, Family was among the most promising of UK progressive acts of the late ‘60s and early 1970s. For the group’s first two releases, Ric Grech (formerly of Blind Faith) played bass; he was replaced by John Weider (of the Animals) for the next two records. John Wetton joined Family for Fearless, the group’s fifth long player, but left in short order to join King Crimson as bassist and lead vocalist.
King Crimson – “Starless” from Red (1974)
Quite possibly the most emotionally resonant track from the varied and adventurous catalog of King Crimson, “Starless” showcases Wetton’s thunderous bass work and the power and nuance of his singing. The song ranks among the most popular King Crimson track, and featured prominently in the group’s set list even in the years after Wetton was no longer in the band.
Uriah Heep – “Prima Donna” from Return to Fantasy (1975)
Uriah Heep found its biggest successes with a pair of 1972 albums, Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday, compelling hybrids of hard rock, lightly progressive textures and fantasy lyrics. Subsequent releases didn’t scale the same heights, but were worthwhile nonetheless. During the time of 1975’s Return to Fantasy, Wetton was bassist for the band, having just left Roxy Music. Wetton remained with the group through the making of its followup, 1976, High and Mighty.
U.K. – “Danger Money” from Danger Money (1979)
In retrospect, U.K. looks a bit like a dress rehearsal for Asia; at its start, the band was a supergroup featuring Wetton, guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, Gong), drummer Bill Bruford (King Crimson) and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music). The lineup quickly fractured, though, and by the time of Danger Money, U.K. was a guitar-less trio: Wetton, Jobson and drummer Terry Bozzio from Frank Zappa’s band. The band’s determinedly progressive approach helped propel Danger Money to the #45 spot on the U.S. album chart.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4500-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he taught a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.