The two very special gems in the 8 CD John Wetton, An Extraordinary Life boxset, are the two bonus discs. The first six discs are John’s solo albums. This provides a musical landscape which, in hindsight, allows us to revisit these albums with a wider knowledge of both personal and musical change that John was undergoing. You can read about those here.
John Wetton – An Extraordinary Life (Cherry Red)
Release Date: 24 November 2023
Words: Adrian Stonley
Sadly, the great man has now departed. Yet we can be overjoyed that he has left us with an immense cannon of wonderful music. John’s songwriting could be beautiful, sumptuous and thoughtful, and at other times hard, striking, and rocky, yet containing enough sensitivity and diversity in his musicianship and songwriting ability.
Nowhere is this shown better than on the two bonus discs.
John Wetton – Bonus Disc 1
Quite simply, there are so many gems in this collection it is hard to pick out favourites. But a few highlights and interesting rarities include a couple of cover versions.
Firstly, a cover of Bryan Adams’ Straight From The Heart is stripped back, producing a more soulful edge to this popular mainstream rock ballad, which completely suits Johns’s voice. All Along The Watchtower takes on a life of its own, with the piece becoming a more defined, gentle acoustic guitar-picked ballad, which wrings the emotion out of the song.
Deya 1986, in this form, is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece which was originally written in 1976 and then resurrected as part of the original Asia album tapes. This never made it to disc at the time but finally appeared as part of the Parallel World/Vortex/Deya tune on the Asia Phoenix album.
This piece, now in its own right, is a beautiful guitar instrumental in the style of Gordon Giltrap bound with its silky tuneliness and gentle handpicked melody that runs through it.
I’d Give It All For You is a strong ballad which would not be out of place on any early Asia album.
John Wetton – Bonus Disc 2
The second Bonus disc is an absolute treasure trove of material. There is so much incredible music contained on this disc alone that it would take too long to break down each individual piece. But I can’t leave this without making a comment on some interesting pieces contained within.
Hopefully, this can be a taster to dive into further when this release goes live.
The disc first opens with an alternative take on the title track from the album Raised In Captivity. Then comes the first of three interesting demo tracks, all from the Over The Top movie. These songs have been rumoured to have existed for a few years now, so it’s good to see them see the light of day now.
Firstly, there is Winner Takes It All, which was written by Giorgio Moroder and Thomas Whitlock and finally recorded for the film by Sammy Hagar. Asia was originally offered the opportunity to play a number of songs in the film, but after recording this demo, John felt that his vocal wasn’t ‘mean’ enough for the song.
Mind Over Matter follows. This was a tune which was finally recorded by Larry Greene for the film, and then a demo of Gypsy Soul, the one Asia tune that did see the light of day on the soundtrack, which is interesting to compare.
Boys Of The Diamond City was the demo for the song that became Boys From Diamond City 88 and was contained on the Asia Archiva album. This contained Max Bacon’s vocals, so again, it’s interesting to hear how it was originally intended to sound with John’s vocals. This version certainly gives it a more traditional Asia sound.
This disc also contains Liesegang (Altro Mondo) Flesh and Blood, which featured John guesting on vocals.
Sex, Power And Money from the John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes Icon 3 album is also here. In this version it contains a considerably different lyric and clearly shows how the tune developed into the final released one.
Walking On Air, though titled the same as the song from the Battlelines albums, is an entirely different tune. Wings Of Angels became part of Heaven Help Me Now from the Asia Gravitas album. This version, with its previous introduction, shows how it could have been and how a song can be stripped apart to become part of something else.
Real World John and Ringo is a studio outtake of the tune from the Welcome To Heaven album with an interesting intro and additional vocals. This version clearly features Ringo Starr’s vocals being more to the fore than on the original, although Steve Hackett’s harmonica break is missing. This was clearly a work-through of the tune and indicated the fun that can occur in the studio while recording with friends.
The Greatest Show On Earth is an early demo of the idea which became a much wider and complex piece on the Wetton, Nolan and Friends album.
What shows throughout this release is how strong John Wetton’s voice was from start to finish. He had consummate vocal ability. Despite the years between the original releases, Johns’s voice is a remaining factor, being as strong and rich as ever.
If this set is the first of more, then I personally cannot wait for the future releases and the treasures that will no doubt be contained within.
You can read about the discs 1-6 here.
Presented in a 12×12” box, this collection also features an extensive 64-page book with notes written by Nick Shilton, author of John’s biography, An Extraordinary Life and artwork by Michael Inns, a long-time friend and collaborator of John’s.
Pre-orders are available from Cherry Red Records.