Name That Tune: How To Find A Song When You Can't Remember Band Or Song Name


Note: For those steps described below that make use of Google Groups, you will need access to the posts contents to do a proper search of all the information available therein. To gain access, you may be instructed to sign in with a Google account in case you have not done so already.


The following is a simple yet surprisingly effective procedure we have devised to find a song when you do not know the band or song name. Your first search will draw from the voluminous Usenet archives (via Google Groups), which contain one of the largest repositories of searchable song fragments available on the Internet.

  1. Write down the most unique words and phrases of whatever song fragments you remember.

    Tip #1: To jog your memory, brainstorm on the following: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Examples follow:

    Who: The "who" could include the singer, the person(s) to whom the song may be addressed, the subject of the song (e.g., as in a ballad), or any other person, animal, cartoon character, etc. mentioned. Try to remember any first names, surnames, nicknames, titles, and proper nouns.

    What: The "what" could include any objects, ideas, concepts, or events that may be central to the theme or otherwise contribute in some way to the story line. The possibilities here are endless, e.g., relationships, first dates, current events (e.g., "Eve of Destruction"), modes of transportation (e.g., "Fly Me To The Moon"), symbolic objects (e.g., "Fire & Rain"), the supernatural (e.g., "Witchy Woman"), anatomy (e.g., "Baby Scratch My Back"), flora & fauna (e.g., "Ben"), food & beverage (e.g., "Spill The Wine"), drugs & alcohol (e.g., "Naturally Stoned"), medical & dental (e.g., "I Don't Need No Cure"), and a sweater lent to a girl on a date.

    Where: The "where" could include a geographical place (e.g., city, state, or country), a street address, a locale (e.g., the beach, a carnival), or a direction (e.g., North, South).

    When: The "when" could include the time of day (e.g., "Good Morning Starshine"), a season (e.g., Halloween), a day of the week (e.g., "Never on Sunday"), or a particular year (e.g., mention of 1814 in "The Battle Of New Orleans").

    Why: The "why" could include an expression of love, a social commentary, or a lament about a relationship gone sour.

    Tip #2: Look for words and phrases that are unusual or that stand out in any way.

    Examples: Colors (e.g., crimson); descriptive adjectives (e.g., little); acronyms (e.g., WOLD); numbers (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, vital statistics); greetings (hello/goodbye); foreign language words and phrases (e.g., voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?); sets of rhyming words (e.g., pie, dry, rye, die), catchy or weird phrases (e.g., "Crystal Blue Persuasion"), and repeating words and phrases as may occur, e.g., in a chorus or refrain.

  2. Verify correct spellings and also allow for all possible alternate spellings (including misspellings).

    Example #1: The following are alternate representations of some common words and phrases as often found in pop tunes: tonight/tonite; love/luv; undone/undun; going/gonna; want to/wanna; night/nite; out of/outa; you/ya, u; and/'n.

    Example #2: For words ending in "ing" an ending apostrophe (') may be substituted for the ending "g." To cover all bases, try searching on a word both with and without its ending "g."

  3. Click here to access Google Groups.

  4. Enter the word "music" along with your search terms as follows:

    music searchterm1 searchterm2 searchterm3 searchterm4 ...
  5. If the song you are looking for does not appear in a post at or near the top of the search results, broaden your search by separating each search term with an "OR" (ALL CAPS) as follows:

    music searchterm1 OR searchterm2 OR searchterm3 OR searchterm4 ...
  6. Then, narrow down the number of hits as follows:

    1. Force a match on all your search terms by adding a plus sign (+) in front of each one:

      music +searchterm1 OR +searchterm2 OR +searchterm3 OR +searchterm4 ...

    2. Remove the ORs between each search term one at a time, starting with those search terms you are most certain about.

    3. Pick a group of search terms that may occur as a phrase in your song (if there is one) and enclose it in quotes.

    4. Repeat the above step one phrase at a time if there are any additional search terms that may also occur as phrases in your song.

    5. Add other (new) search terms one at a time as necessary (e.g., ones that you may discover along the way) to further narrow down the results.

    Note: As you try different search term permutations, you can weed out any words that you may discover to be incorrect or useless so far as your song search in Google Groups is concerned. Example: if adding quotes around a group of search terms results in a drastic reduction in the number of hits, with no relevant posts remaining, this could indicate either that the phrase is in fact not a part of your song's lyrics or that it may be valid but there are no posts available that include that phrase.

  7. Repeat the above steps as necessary until you either find your song (hurray!) or cannot find it after many repeated attempts.

  8. If you cannot find your song via Google Groups, go to Google Advanced Search. Begin by entering all your search terms in the "all these words" field. If this initial search does not pan out, enter your search terms into "any of these words" and follow Step 6 above to narrow down the number of hits.

  9. Finally, if you have no luck using the above procedures but think you might be able to guess what the title might be (e.g., from the chorus or refrain), try some of our other resources listed below.

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Search the following web sites by song title:

  1. Library of Congress Recorded Sound Section Database (SONIC) - Click on either the "Commercial 78s, 45s, and Cassettes" or "Music Only" links under "Special Search Screens" on the right hand side and enter a song title in the search form.

  2. eBay Advanced Search - To find 45rpm recordings of your song, enter the song title under "Enter keywords or item number" and select "Exact words, exact order" in the dropdown menu. Under "In this category" select "Music" from the dropdown menu, and under "Search including" select "Title and description."

  3. Google Advanced Search - Enter "b/w" (without the quotes) in the "all these words" field and a song title in the "this exact word or phrase" field.

  4. Google Groups - Enter "b/w" and a song title in quotes.

  5. MusicStack - Enter a song title in the "Title" field. For long titles, enter only the first 3-5 words. (Disclosure: Please note that may receive, at no additional cost to you, a commission if you should make any purchases through this link.)

If you cannot find your A- or B-side song at any of the above web sites, we recommend you consult one of Joel Whitburn's books. Please see our reading list for book title information.

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Transcriptions of weekly surveys for many of the nation's then-top AM radio stations are available online. If you grew up listening to either WMCA or WABC in New York, most of these radio stations' weekly surveys are available at WABC Musicradio 77 and can be easily searched via Google. The years spanned by the surveys of WABC and WMCA are, respectively, 1960-1982 and 1957-1970. Note that whereas WABC tended to be more mainstream, WMCA played not only the Top 40 hits but also many lesser-known songs. Other old radio stations with weekly surveys on the Internet are WLS (Chicago), KRLA (Los Angeles), and KHJ (Los Angeles). The weekly surveys for these and other old radio stations are available courtesy of Oldiesloon and can also be searched via Google.

If you cannot remember the band or song name, a perusal of old surveys from the radio station(s) you used to listen to may help to jog your memory. To see if any weekly surveys from your radio station(s) are available online, go to Google Advanced Search and enter the following:

  1. In the "all these words" field, enter "survey" (without the quotes).
  2. In the "this exact word or phrase" field, enter the radio station name (e.g., WABC).
  3. Narrow your search by entering at least one year (e.g., 1967) in the "any of these words" field.
  4. If the above yields no results, then repeat your search on Google Groups.

If you can remember (or guess) either the band or song name, then we recommend the following:

  1. In the "all these words" field, enter "survey" (without the quotes).
  2. In the "this exact word or phrase" field, enter either the band or song name.
  3. Narrow your search by entering at least one year in the "any of these words" field.
  4. Repeat your search on Google Groups as necessary.

If you cannot find any surveys online that have what you are looking for, we recommend you consult one of Joel Whitburn's books. Please see our reading list for book title information and descriptions.

Also, eBay offers old radio surveys from time to time. The best way to find them is to visit eBay and enter the 3- or 4-letter radio station name into the search box.

If you just want to try to fill in missing information for your song, then see our list of other online resources.

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By far, the easiest and best way we know of to find an instrumental is via Joel Whitburn's Pop Annual (see our reading list for book title information). We recommend you carefully peruse song listings not only for the year in which you first remember hearing your song but also those from both the year before and the year after to cover all bases. One of many nice features about Whitburn's books is that instrumentals are clearly indicated by an "[I]" which makes them hard to miss.

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The following web sites have a wealth of information for oldies music lovers and collectors:

  1. Library of Congress Recorded Sound Section Database (SONIC) - This is one entry point to the US Government's massive record collection whose holdings include over 100,000 45s catalogued to date. Click on either the "Commercial 78s, 45s, and Cassettes" or "Music Only" links under "Special Search Screens" on the right hand side to access the search form. Here, you can verify a song title and obtain other information such as performing artist(s), B-side song, record label, and songwriter(s).

  2. US Copyright Office Online - This is another valuable (and often overlooked) resource for verifying a song title and finding its songwriter(s). You can also find complete lists of all copyrighted works by a performing artist or songwriter. (Under "Resources," click on the "Search Copyright Records" link.)

  3. British Library National Sound Archive (NSA) Catalogue - If you cannot find whatever you are looking for in the LOC SONIC database (see above) or need information on British oldies or American oldies that may have also charted in the UK, check out this web site. Here, you will find an astronomical collection of sound recordings of all types with record label and other information. Click on the "Advanced Search" tab to access the Advanced Search form.

  4. ASCAP - ACE Database - ACE is a database of song titles licensed by ASCAP in the United States. For each title, you can find the names of the songwriters and the names, contact persons, addresses and, in most cases, phone numbers of publishers to contact if you want to use the work. For most of the titles, you'll find some of the artists who have made commercial recordings. If you cannot find your song title in the ACE database, it may not be licensed through ASCAP, in which case you should try the BMI and SESAC databases. (See below.)

  5. BMI Repertoire - This website offers information very similar to that of ASCAP (see above) for song titles licensed through BMI.

  6. SESAC - If you are looking for information on a song not licensed through either ASCAP or BMI, this organization offers information similar to ASCAP and BMI (see above). Click on the "Repertory Search" button to access their database.

  7. All Music Guide (AMG) - This web site also offers a wealth of song title information and is especially useful if the only information you have about a song is the album on which it is included. The AMG web site can be searched by band or song name, album title, or record label.

  8. Bowling Green State University Jerome Library - This web site is the best place to go if your song is on an old LP album and you cannot find it at AMG (see above). Select "SOUND RECORD" under "Material Type" to restrict your search to the sound recordings archive.

  9. eBay - Due to its numerous listings (which change daily), eBay has amassed a huge repository of information on all types of music recordings and accompanying song title information. For example, valuable information as found on old record jackets is searchable through their web site.

  10. Google Groups - Here, you can access the Usenet archives which have a goldmine of useful information for music hobbyists. For example, see above for ways to use the Usenet archives to find long-lost tunes from half-forgotten song fragments.

  11. Google - All of the above web sites are fine examples of what can be found via the "hidden" Internet not normally accessible by search engines. By far, the best search engine to round out your search is Google. Often, if you choose your search terms even halfway right, the results you are looking for will magically "float" right to the top.

  12. MusicStack - MusicStack is a marketplace made up of thousands of music stores, both small and large (and not all online). All the stores' listings, which include numerous 45 rpm recordings, have been conveniently consolidated into one big database where you can find/verify a song title, performing artist(s), B-side song, and record label information. (Disclosure: Please note that may receive, at no additional cost to you, a commission if you should make any purchases through this link.)

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