In late December 1980, Wetton and former Yes guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start writing material for a new album. By this point, many progressive rock bands, such as Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, had folded, so many qualified musicians were available for this proposed group. They were eventually joined in early 1981 by drummer Carl Palmer, and finally by Howe's recent Yes cohort, keyboardist Geoff Downes. Two other players auditioned and considered during the band's formation were former The Move and ELO founder Roy Wood and the aforementioned guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin, who would go on to be part of a reformed Yes in 1983. Rabin, in a filmed 1984 interview included in the DVD 9012Live, said that his involvement with Asia never went anywhere because "there was no chemistry" among the participants. The band's first recordings, under the auspices of Geffen record label head David Geffen and Kalodner, were considered disappointing by music critics and fans of traditional progressive rock, who found the music closer to radio-friendly Album-oriented rock. However, Asia clicked with fans of popular arena acts such as Journey, Boston and Styx. Indeed, Kalodner had once introduced Wetton to Journey's short-lived frontman Robert Fleischman, who had penned such Journey classics "Anytime" and "Wheel in the Sky," with a view to Fleischman becoming Asia's lead-singer. Fleischman was already known to bandmember Carl Palmer. However, as they worked on material together, Fleischman was impressed by Wetton's singing and felt the voice best suited to the new material was Wetton's own. Leaving Asia amicably, Fleischman returned to America eventually to work on several projects with ex-KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent.
Rolling Stone gave Asia an indifferent review, while still acknowledging the band's musicianship was a cut above the usual AOR expectations.