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Rock's Backpages

A guide to a database with more than 25,000 articles of popular music journalism since 1960.

Hacking the search box

As with other familiar search tools, it is possible to search for an exact phrase in RBP by placing it in quotation marks. For example, "disco sucks" (in quotation marks) returns 28 articles where those words appear together; searching the same terms without quotes returns 2,922 articles, most of which are irrelevant. (By default, RBP places an "OR" in between search terms. Results are arranged by relevance or date.)

Unfortunately, RBP cannot yet handle Boolean operators such as AND, OR, or NOT that are commonly used in other databases and websites. Although this limitation can make it difficult to zero in on a topic in RBP, there are some workarounds that you can try to improve your search results.

1. Narrow by facet

One of RBP's strengths is how well it indexes articles by band and genre/topic, including some very obscure and specific ones. Searching for an indexed genre like "Scandinavian pop" is a piece of cake, but searching for other subgenres may take a little more effort. Sometimes you may want to cast your nets a little wider and then use the facets panel on the right to narrow your search.

For example, let's say you want to research 1990s west coast rap. Entering the search term "west coast rap" yields only 12 hits, and "west coast hip-hop" yields only one. Alternatively you could search for just "west coast," which returns thousands of hits, many of which have to do with the Beach Boys or other rock groups. However, in the results for "west coast," you have the option of filtering by one of the top categories listed in the gray box on the right, such as Garage and Grime (128 hits), Rap (128), or Hip Hop (117). Voila! Now you have a good selection of articles on Tupac, Coolio, and Dr. Dre.

2. Reformulate your query

Maybe RBP won't let you search for "Van Halen NOT Sammy Hagar," but the advanced search will let you search for "van halen" and narrow the date range to end in 1985 (the year Hagar joined the band). This kind of solution is not perfect (in this example, retrospective articles about the band might also be desired but excluded in this search), but it can get you closer.


3. Use Google... wisely

If you're having trouble refining your search to only a few relevant items, you might want to try using Google to search RBP. In the Google search box, enter the following text before your search terms: site:rocksbackpages.com/library/article. The search results may look more immediately relevant than what you could get from the same search directly in RBP, but be careful because many RBP articles might not show up in Google. 

4. Try, try again

It may take a few attempts with different search terms to get what you're looking for. If you're having trouble, feel free to contact a librarian for further assistance.