Adelaide-born folk/rock singer-songwriter Doug Ashdown paid his dues here and overseas for many years, recording several albums and singles but with only moderate success. His album The Age of the Mouse, was the first double album of original material released by a local artist, preceding Spectrum’s Milesago by almost two years. This encouraged Doug to try his luck in Nashville and while he did have some success writing songs for others, he ultimately returned to Australia.
In 1974 Ashdown recorded the album Leave Love Enough Alone with co-producer Jimmy Stewart, who also co-wrote the title track.
The song was originally two separate compositions, Ashdown had written the lyric “Winter in America is cold, and I just keep growing older…” and Stewart had “Leave love enough alone…” both were pining for home during a freezing Nashville winter, Ashdown has also revealed that the core narrative of the song was an artistic deceit, as unlike the person in the song, he was happily married and living with his wife in the US at the time.
The original title of the song when issued in 1974, Leave Love Enough Alone, was a poor choice, as it is an awkward turn of phrase and not all that relevant in the overall context of the song, so when the record was re-issued in 1976 the title was changed to Winter In America and immediately generated interest. The song boasts one of the most fragrantly evocative opening lines of any Australian composition “The harbor’s misty in the morning, love, oh how I miss December/ The frangipani opens up to kiss the salty air…”.
Lyrically it is an exquisite ballad with weather allegories that expose the heartache and longing of the narrator – the cold winter of a failed relationship, a former lover sharing her morning sun with someone else, the sadness of the rain, making love to strangers … the hurt and anguish of lost love is palpable.
The chorus was also catchy and the orchestration and strings at the opening, which are not often heard on radio, provide the soundscape upon which the bass, acoustic guitar and Nathan Waks cello accompaniment lead us to Ashdown’s sensitive rendering of the song. Electric guitar riffs, percussion and David Briggs piano flourishes complete a beguiling and haunting sound palette, and deliver a moody, languid, introspective classic.
The song has become an Australian standard, it’s a poignant story of lost love and remorse and recalls the sentiment and lyrical structure of Glenn Campbell’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix, but without the place names marking the distance travelled towards the estrangement of the couple, and with a chorus, that the Jim Webb song famously did not have. This was Ashdown’s biggest hit, it charted #37 locally and #13 in the Netherlands, where it was also covered by local Dutch performer Rene Froger in 1988, who took it into the top five there. American performer Gill Scott Heron released a soulful jazz-pop fusion song with the same name in 1974, but the two songs were completely different.