“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” — Not only is it a fun song to sing, but for amateur guitarists just getting the hang of ’70s rock riffs, the temptation to start playing “Stairway to Heaven” is almost palatable.
But you may have noticed a sign in guitar shops outright banning this legendary riff by Led Zeppelin. It’s not a hated song, far from it. So it’s natural to wonder, why can’t you play Stairway to Heaven in guitar stores?
Origin Of the Song — Stairway to Heaven
The song was written by the ’70s rock band Led Zeppelin’s co-founders Robert Plant, the lead vocalist, and Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist. They began recording the song in December 1970 at Island Records.
“Stairway to Heaven” is a very popular song and there have thus been countless interpretations about its meaning. The song was very abstract but had such an alluring tune that it became, and still remains, a timeless sensation that nobody can explain.
Even Robert Plant himself said, “Depending on what day it is, I still interpret the song a different way — and I wrote the lyrics.”
The lyrics suggest the song is about a lady who wants to accumulate wealth but doesn’t realize that if her life had no meaning beyond the materiality of pleasure, she wouldn’t get into heaven. However, the song takes a wild turn once she starts trying to buy her way to heaven.
Is The Song Actually Banned in Guitar Store?
Yes and no. Some guitar stores pretty much have a sign outright forbidding the riff from being played. But most stores don’t have a sign or an actual policy, although the owners or managers may ask you to stop if you start playing it.
Other stores are a bit more laid back and don’t say anything as long as they believe you’re genuinely interested in purchasing a guitar. Some stores are more about business.
The notion of “Stairway to Heaven” being a forbidden riff has its roots in pop culture. In the iconic comedy movie Wayne’s World (1992), Wayne goes into a guitar store and starts playing “Stairway to Heaven” but is stopped by the store owner who then points to a sign on the wall.
And that sign says “No Stairway to Heaven.” This scene gained immense popularity, and it’s speculated that a lot of stores adopted the policy from the movie.
What Makes Stairway to Heaven The “Forbidden Riff”?
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One thing’s for sure, the song is forbidden in many stores. But why? What is it about this iconic, timeless, and arguably the greatest song ever written that riles up guitar store managers so much? Here are some of the possible explanations.
Song Was Either Created by Or for The Devil Himself
Rock and roll music has often been tied to Satan worship or Satanic messaging by a small fraction of Christians. Some people believe that the song “Stairway to Heaven” is subliminally connected to Satan. When you play it backward, the tune sounds rather ghoulish.
It’s also believed that the lyrics allude to worshipping Satan. Some people have even gone as far as to claim the song was composed by the devil himself.
In January 1982, the television program Trinity Broadcasting Network claimed that the song used a technique called backmasking to hide Satanic messages in plain sight. One of the examples they used to support this claim was from the mid part of the song that went “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…”.
Hearing this verse backward, you may be able to barely make out some of the allegedly hidden Satanic messages. Here are some of the lyrics people have claimed to hear when the song is played backward:
“Here’s to my sweet Satan.”
“The one whose little path would make me sad whose power is Satan.”
“He’ll give you, he’ll give you 666.”
“There was a tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”
It’s highly unlikely that this would be the reason guitar stores ban the song though. What kind of guitar store doesn’t appreciate rock and roll after all?
People Just Got Tired of Hearing It
“Stairway to Heaven” is a beautiful riff. It’s melodious and incredibly addictive. It’s also one of the easiest songs to learn as a beginner. You’ll hardly ever find a guitarist that has never learned to play this riff.
So it’s possible that some stores have banned it just because the song was overplayed, and they’re tired of hearing it. Not playing “Stairway to Heaven” is considered more of a guitar store etiquette rather than a rule.
It’s not hard to imagine getting sick of a song after hearing it for the thousandth time. Even one as iconic as “Stairway to Heaven.” Sometimes people just don’t want to hear it in their stores because they realize hearing it too much may ruin the song for them.
The Song Was Stolen
There have been claims about both the riff and lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” being stolen. In fact, in 2016, Led Zeppelin finally won a 6-year long case against them for allegedly stealing the song from Randy Wolfe of the US band Spirit.
A petition for a retrial was filed to the Supreme court after the verdict of 2016, but in 2020, the US Supreme court rejected the case to say that the 2016 verdict will stand.
Legally speaking, Led Zeppelin is definitely out of the woods because all the evidence thus far has been contrary to the notion that the song was plagiarized.
If you listen to Taurus by Spirit, you’ll notice the immediate similarity of the chords and progression.
What Are Other Songs That Are Not Allowed in Guitar Stores?
There are some more riffs in addition to “Stairway to Heaven” that some guitar store managers tend to get annoyed over, more likely due to the repetition as opposed to controversies surrounding them.
Here are some of these songs:
#1. Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
#2. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
#3. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
#4. Enter Sandman – Metallica
#5. Wonderwall – Oasis
#6. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
#7. Back In Black – AC/DC
#8. Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
Other Rules in Guitar Stores
Guitar stores tend to have many unwritten rules that you should follow if you want to make nice with the manager and get a discount.
#1. Don’t touch anything without permission.
#2. Do not test the volume of the amplifier without permission.
#3. Don’t start practicing in the guitar store. The managers let you try the guitar out under the assumption you’re just checking to see if everything works. After 1 or 2 songs give the guitar back.
#4. Don’t give unsolicited advice to other people in the store tuning their guitars or looking around to examine their options.
#5. Learn to tune the guitar yourself; it can be annoying for the managers to have to do it for every guitar you try out.
#6. Stores are for trying out new guitars before buying them, not showcasing your skills, so don’t start performing.
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