Why Can’t You Play Stairway To Heaven In Guitar Stores?

It sounds crazy to say. A guitar song banned in a guitar store! While this isn’t necessarily true, there is a reason why this is said and there are some reasons why you should choose not to play it in a guitar store!

Why Can’t You Play Stairway to Heaven in Guitar Stores

What’s Stairway To Heaven?

In the famous words of Jack Black – get the Led out! Stairway to Heaven is a very famous rock song from 1971 performed by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It’s almost universally agreed to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

The initial few notes are very well known and anyone working at a guitar store should know them almost instantly – speaking of those opening notes….

The Forbidden Riff?

These opening notes have now been referred to as the forbidden riff. It’s quite possible that this all started from the 1992 movie Wayne’s World.

In one scene, Wayne (played by Mike Myers) attempts to play Stairway to Heaven in a guitar store, until he is abruptly stopped and pointed to a sign that reads “no Stairway to Heaven”. Wayne replies to the camera “no Stairway… denied!”.

Fun fact: the riff attempted by Wayne was not even close to being like Led Zeppelin’s. This was because the movie did not have the rights to use it! Even with this though, the denied riff has now been taken on and become a serious practise – this is the forbidden riff!

Wait – So Playing Stairway To Heaven Is Banned In Guitar Stores? Really?!

Well, there’s not exactly a law that says you can’t and you’ll be hard pressed to find a guitar store that has any Wayne’s World type signs banning it.

You may even find that many people continue to play it in stores, which is not surprising. If you learn the guitar, a lot of guitar tutors will ease their students in with the Stairway to Heaven opening riff. You may think because of that – surely it’s easy to play then, right? Not quite.

Stairway – Heaven Or Hell?

Stairway to Heaven isn’t as easy to play as it might sound, but it is memorable and recognizable. That’s probably why guitar tutors might bring their students in with this, but the technique is difficult for a beginner.

There’s a lot of fingerpicking (sometimes multiple) and bar chords. If you do manage to get it right though, it is certainly something to impress your pals with – but if you’re looking for a much easier riff, there are way more!

What’s The Deal With Guitar Stores And Stairway To Heaven Then?

Why Can’t You Play Stairway to Heaven in Guitar Stores

Although the song isn’t really banned and there is no law that explicitly forbids it from being played in guitar stores, it’s not going to come as a surprise that many guitar store workers and owners detest people playing the riff.

There can be a number of reasons for this. Probably the most obvious is that the song is hugely overplayed. The more simple the song, the more likely it is to be played in guitar stores – think about Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple for example.

Imagine that being played several times a day throughout the week and then you might hear it on TV or on the radio. It would drive you crazy!

If you’ve ever worked in a store over the Holidays, you might have heard the same Christmas playlist over and over again for months – that is basically how they feel about Stairway! So, although it isn’t banned or a crime, it’s better that you choose something more infrequently played.

Stairway To Copyright Law Firms

There is another potential use of the phrase “forbidden riff”. It’s due to a copyright debate of the song. Spirit (a 60s rock band) brought action against Led Zeppelin claiming Led Zeppelin had breached copyright by replicating their song called “Taurus”.

Even with plenty of appeals, the courts have categorically ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin. Bands and other artists often take inspiration or cover other people’s songs (and some end up in court like this!). Another example is the case of Robin Thicke and Marvin Gaye.

Members of Marvin Gaye’s family sued Robin Thicke and Pharell for copyright infringement. They claimed that Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” was a copy of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”. The courts ruled in favor of the Gaye family for a sum of 5 million bucks! Don’t steal songs…

What To Play And What Not To Play

While we’ve established that Stairway is not a fond song in guitar stores, likely due to its overplayed nature, we should also let you know some other songs which are entirely overused and you’d be better off avoiding in guitar stores.

  • Deep Purple: Smoke on the Water
  • Black Sabbath: Iron Man
  • White Stripes: Seven Nation Army
  • Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • Metallica: Nothing Else Matters

There are plenty more, but these 5 are by far the most played. Be sure that if you play something they don’t like in a guitar store – they’ll let you know! No White Stripes? Denied!

So, what could you play at a guitar store that isn’t overplayed? Perhaps you could check out these:

  • Tenacious D: Wonderboy
  • Alice Cooper: Poison
  • Iron Maiden: Trooper
  • Staind: Outside
  • Puddle Of Mudd: Blurry

Those choices aren’t for beginners really – but if you wanna just rock out and throw out some tasty tunes at a guitar store – these shouldn’t get the guitar store staff angry!

Guitar Stores: What To Remember

Why Can’t You Play Stairway to Heaven in Guitar Stores

Not playing the overplayed is definitely number one on your list of priorities now right?

The thing is, newbies to the guitar world might never have entered a store like this before and could do with a couple of tips to get them moving in the right direction! There’s nothing worse than an accidental faux-pas when you knew nothing about the general expectations.

  1. Always remember that if you pick something up, you need to put it back. It’s probably good practise anyway. There’s few things more annoying as a worker when people come in and move things around and simply don’t put them back where they found them. All your hard work is undone in seconds!
  2. Don’t turn the amp all the way up. There are other people around and they could do without having their eardrums burst by potentially awful playing! Even if you’re the next coming of Slash, please ask the store to use a soundproof room or just wait until you’re home. Failing all of that, you could put some headphones in – you might look stupid though!
  3. If a sign says “keep doors closed” then you should keep the doors closed! There are rooms in guitar stores that maintain the instruments. Some instruments are made from real wood so they must be kept at specific temperatures and general atmospheres. The rooms they’re kept in have humidity control, so don’t ruin thousands of dollars of kit by being lazy!
  4. Employ common sense. If you’re a beginner, don’t pick up a $10,000 guitar and attempt to play something on the amp. Don’t touch equipment if you have dirty hands – so remember general hygiene! Store workers have enough to deal with, without having to clean equipment which has Hersey’s stains on them!
  5. Respect is key. You should always be on good behavior with your local stores anyway, but remember not to be a nuisance in a guitar store. Don’t sing your heart out if you’re playing, it’s just irritating. Remember too, the workers are likely very knowledgeable about instruments and music. If you’re a beginner, they can be a great fountain of knowledge for you to absorb from. Remember to keep good behavior and enjoy the experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Did Wayne’s World Cause This Myth?!

Wayne’s World premiered in 1992 with a sequel in 1993. The likelihood is that anybody growing up in this period became part of the first social media generation a decade later. With the introduction of YouTube, Gifs and a variety of platforms for memes – Wayne’s World’s memory stayed alive!

Another possibility is that due to Spirit’s lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, the song came back into our minds and across news media in 2016. Of course, this is a period of fantastic social media and technological availability – so “no Stairway? Denied!” remains a staple of our guitar store culture today!

How Popular Is Stairway To Heaven?

Well, over one million copies have been sold right now and it continues to sell 15,000 every year. These numbers aren’t even including the YouTube plays, streaming services like Apple Music, Amazon Music or Spotify and it’s not including covers of the song. It’s safe to say that it’s a very popular song!

Is It Only Guitar Stores That Hate Stairway To Heaven?

This is actually interesting. Robert Plant once donated ten thousand dollars to a radio station in Oregon, if the DJ promised never to play Stairway To Heaven again. In his defence – he did say he did not “hate” the song, but rather he’d “heard it before”.

What Do The Lyrics Of Stairway Mean?

Interestingly, not even the writer Robert Plant knows! There was a theory by a televangelist Paul Crouch in the ‘80s that suggested the lyrics were meant to be backwards and suggests a connection to Satan.

If that’s not strange enough for you – some fans believed it was inspired by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, with the stairway leading to Middle Earth. Amazing!

The Final Note

Stairway to Heaven isn’t banned from guitar stores but it isn’t the best etiquette. If you’re going to play something in a guitar store, opt for something less played or ask a worker who will be happy to advise you! Rock out!

Andrew Patterson
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