Cover of the Matthew Doucet book “You’ve Never Heard Your Favorite Song.” Image courtesy of Cider Mill Press

I thought I knew a little bit about music until I read Mainer Matthew Doucet’s new book “You’ve Never Heard Your Favorite Song: 100 Deep Cuts to Make Your World Sound Better.”

If you liken the amount of music out in the world to the mysteries and depths of the world’s oceans, you’ll understand that it’s not about how much you know, it’s about being open to the discovery of new things.

” ‘You’ve Never Heard Your Favorite Song’ zig-zags across continents and decades, a kind of movement as literally fourth dimensional as one can access,” writes Jesse Jarnow in the book’s introduction. “Your favorite song isn’t waiting here. It’s somewhere within reach, but you will never hear it, and you will never stop looking. For a music fan, that’s not a threat, but a beautiful promise,” he adds, and I wholeheartedly agree.

To give you an idea of the range of songs in the book, I chose three to tell you about by flipping through it with my eyes closed.

“When I Come Knocking” is by Poncho C. Saint Fingers and was released in 1980. Doucet wrote two highly effective sentences about it: “Sure, the name seems like something a teenager who’s decided to build his entire identity around pot would come up with. If you can manage to overlook it, you’ll discover that Poncho was too busy beating Hall & Oates at their own game to bother with branding.” I listened to it and it’s as smooth as silk and bounces like a superball.

“Ancora Tu” is by Irish singer-songwriter and producer Róisín Murphy and was released in 2014. Doucet explains that it’s a reworking of the hit from iconic Italian singer Lucio Battisti and the result is a window into Murphy’s “breathtaking artistry.” I found the song to be an enthralling dreamscape that I couldn’t understand a single word of because it’s in Italian, but was nonetheless riveted.

“Tranquillo”  is by Carly Simon and was released in 1978 on her “Boys in the Trees” album. Now of course I know who Carly Simon is and I’ve loved her since childhood. Doucet chose this particular track because of the “build to the crescendo of strings and the range of Simon’s vocals in ‘Tranquillo’ cry out for more, and much-deserved attention.” This is one of the few songs in Doucet’s book that I actually recognize.  The “melt my heart” refrain is familiar, though it’s been decades since my ears have heard it.

Matthew Doucet. Photo by Tom Belluscio

But who is Matthew Doucet and how on earth did he write such a book?

Originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, Doucet lives in Biddeford. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Doucet began his writing career in the sports department and later as a copy editor at the Boston Herald. From there, he earned a master of arts degree at St. John’s College in New Mexico. Currently, Doucet is a senior editor and content strategist at Cider Mill Press, the publishing house that released his latest and two previous books.

After thinking about writing something about music for a year, Doucet said he spent six months working on “You’ve Never Heard Your Favorite Song,” first with research and then the actual writing. As for his song selection process, Doucet said that they had to be off the beaten path for people who were into music but also needed to be accessible and powerful enough to stop listeners in their tracks. “The songs also had to be able to carry someone further down their own path: toward an artist, a label, a producer, a DJ, something that would reward a person with a bit of curiosity.”

I told Doucet I was overwhelmed with the breadth of genres and time periods covered in the book, and I asked him how he became aware of some of them. He said that being a fan of his favorite band LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, who is also a DJ, was key. “In 2014, I came across a mix he’d made for his label, DFA, at a point where I was at a musical – and existential, really – crossroads. The first song on that mix was ‘Summer Night in Harlem’ by The Fantasy (which is in the book), and nothing was ever the same,” he explained. In that moment, Doucet said he realized he had no idea what was actually happening musically or for that matter, what he even liked. He pulled this thread further and was led to the NYC radio program “Beats in Space” with Tim Sweeney where he discovered other tracks that made it into the book.

It was surprising to learn that Doucet’s parents aren’t really into music. “They like it, but it’s not a thing they devote a lot of thought or energy to.” Doucet sees this as a gift. “Because when you inherit your tastes, from what I’ve seen, it can put a limit on where you’re willing to venture,” he said.

He does, however, recall becoming obsessed at age 11 or 12 with Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and Wu-Tang Clan’s “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”  “While everyone else went to grunge, I was firmly there until high school, where friends steered me toward classic rock and jam bands. I stayed in that mainstream-ish vein until I heard that mix from James.”

I asked Doucet to share what some of his absolute favorite tracks mentioned in his book are and he singled out the first song, “Love is a Hurting Thing” by Gloria Ann Taylor. “All of the tracks here made a considerable impression the first time I heard them but that song was like contracting the flu. I did nothing else for three days, there’s so much life in it.” He also gave a nod to the disco track “Kiss Me Again” by Dinosaur. “That song has one of my favorite vocals ever, and it’s Arthur Russell, and it’s way out there musically.”

The third song Doucet mentioned is perhaps the most significant as it’s the one that gave him the idea to write the book: “Hammond Song” by the folk trio The Roches, comprising sisters Suzzy, Terre and the late Maggie Roche. The song appears on their 1979 debut album. Doucet said he plays it for everyone, including one friend who couldn’t believe how incredible it was and that he’d never heard it before. “He actually said the phrase that became the book’s title during the conversation that followed. The minute he said it, I thought ‘Hm. That might be a book.’ ”

I’ve been familiar with The Roches for a long time but have never properly dug in. “Hammond Song,” with jaw-dropping vocal harmonies and lines like “Do your eyes have an answer/To this song of mine/They say we meet again/On down the line,” makes me wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that recording session.

Doucet was succinct when speaking about what he hopes readers will take away from his book: “To understand that we’re always in danger of underestimating how vast the world is, and how rich it is. There’s talent, beauty, inspiration all over, everywhere. You just have to be willing to leave the comfort of what you already know, and engage with, rather than dismiss, what you don’t.”

In its 187 pages, “You’ve Never Heard Your Favorite Song” holds an immeasurable amount of unfettered love, passion and knowledge about what I’ve long considered to be one of the world’s only truly universal languages: music.

The book is available at Longfellow Books, Print: A Bookstore and Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop, all in Portland. It can be purchased online at cidermillpress.com.

Doucet was able to find 86 of the book’s 100 songs on Spotify and he created a playlist that shares the name with his book. You can listen to it here:

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