Hi there, fellow guitar player or interested individual! You’re undoubtedly reading this article because you want to know why can’t guitarists play stairway to heaven in music stores?
The short answer is that it has become such a cliche opening riff over the years that it can invoke feelings of frustration and maybe even anger among some music store workers.
Please note that this article has entertainment value only. If you’re in the mood and have a little time to kill, read on, and I’ll tell you the sad tale of how it all came to be from my amusing perspective! 😊 🙃
As always, you can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it, and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the full “Stairway” experience!
So, What’s The Problem With This Song?
Nothing really; it’s a great Led Zeppelin song, possibly their best effort and definitely their most well-known tune! It was always expected to be on the setlist of any concert.
If you have an electric guitar, you probably learned to play the opening riff and maybe the entire song. When Stairway was released on Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, I learned the opening and the now iconic guitar solo.
The rub lies within what playing your version of such a cliche and overplayed riff in a music store has come to stand for. It also got some jokingly bad press in a movie, which probably didn’t help matters! Keep on reading, and I’ll explain!
It Probably All Started As A Joke
It could be accurate to say that Stairway To Heaven has been one of the most abused guitar openings in modern guitar history!
I can remember a time back in the ’70s and ’80 when you couldn’t be in a music store for more than 10 minutes without someone plugging in a guitar and going for their version of Stairway.
It became “The Riff” to check out the sound of a guitar and try to impress bystanders. You can imagine how annoying that would be if you worked in some place like the Guitar Center and heard a dozen people butcher that song on a daily basis.
Anyway, this went on for so long that in 1992 it was featured in a scene of the movie “Wayne’s World,” where Wayne picks up a ’63 Strat and begins to play the infamous Stairway riff when a disgruntled salesman stops him and calls his attention to a big blue sign on the wall that says “No Stairway To Heaven.”
Take a look at this short video clip. The movie is hilarious, so if you haven’t seen it, stream it!
To this day, you will get strange looks and laughs if you attempt to indulge in this forbidden pleasure.
Will Playing “Stairway” Really Get You Banished?
No, not at all! It has just become a bit of a bad joke. You can play anything you want at an appropriate volume level, and no one is going to kick you out of the store or banish you forever!
Remember, music stores and salespeople are there to make money, so they’ll let you play anything you want in the hope that you’ll buy the guitar or amp.
Be aware that they may joke about it after you leave, but you shouldn’t let that bother you.
Other Songs You Probably Shouldn’t Play In A Music Store
Of course, when it comes right down to it, you can play whatever you want, but here are some other songs whose opening riffs have been beaten to death in music stores across the planet. 😊
There’s no objective scale of which tune is worse than another, so I listed them in alphabetical order.
Back In Black
This is one of my favorite AC/DC songs. Angus Young’s opening riff is truly iconic. It is from “Back In Black,” their “comeback” album after the death of their lead singer, Bon Scott.
Ozzy Osbourne made his triumphant return after leaving Black Sabbath with this Metal rocker, powered by the guitar wizardry of Randy Rhoads. It has a catchy opening riff that is great for checking out a high-gain amp or distortion pedal.
This is arguably the quintessential Metallica lick! It has a diabolic sound, making it a tempting choice for any Metal fan. Everyone knows the tale of The Sandman, which helps fuel its popularity!
Iron Man is one of the first Black Sabbath songs I learned, and I probably annoyed lots of listeners by playing it every chance I got! The opening riff never fails to evoke the power of Sabbath!
Smells Like Teen Spirit
If you like Nirvana, chances are you pull out the “Teen Spirit” opening whenever the opportunity arises, especially if you’re playing a Fender Mustang! It basically defined the grungy sound that became so popular in the 90s.
Smoke On The Water
If you say “play Deep Purple,” the next thing you hear will probably be the opening bars to “Smoke On The Water.” Most people play it wrong, with the 5th of the power cord above the root, instead of below it. Still, even played correctly, it’s a little presumptuous to try to copy Ritchie Blackmore!
Sweet Child O’ Mine
It was all about this tune when Guns N’ Roses first hit the airwaves. It’s a rocker and still very popular among guitar players trying out a Les Paul in a music store. Let’s face it; there’s only one “Slash!”
What Is Stairway To Heaven?
For those of you who do not know, this song was one of Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits. It was released on their fourth album (Led Zeppelin IV) back in 1971
Here is the official release of Stairway, Live at Earls Court 1975. Enjoy!
Who Is Led Zeppelin?
Really, are you serious? Well, even if you do know, here’s a little history and trivia about the band you may not be aware of.
Led Zeppelin was formed back in 1968 as the “New Yardbirds.” Their name was changed to Led Zeppelin after the drummer for “The Who” (Keith Moon) presumably said the band would go over like a lead balloon.
Jimmy Page came from The Yardbirds. He replaced Jeff Beck, who initially replaced Eric Clapton. So, The Yardbirds contained three of the world’s greatest Rock N’ Roll guitar players!
Led Zeppelin Band Members:
- Robert Plant – Lead vocals and harmonica
- Jimmy Page – Guitar, theremin, and backing vocals
- John Paul Jones – Bass, keyboards, and backing vocals
- John Bonham – Drums and percussion
Led Zeppelin was one of the best-selling Rock bands of all time, with worldwide sales of between 200 to 300 million units!
The band officially broke up after the death of Joh Bonham, the drummer, in 1980. There will never be another Zeppelin, not even close!
Led Zeppelin Discography
- 1. Led Zeppelin (1969)
- 2. Led Zeppelin II (1969)
- 3. Led Zeppelin III (1970)
- 4. Led Zeppelin IV – Untitled album (1971)
- 5. Houses of the Holy (1973)
- 6. Physical Graffiti (1975)
- 7. Presence (1976)
- 8. In Through the Out Door (1979)
If you’re a Zeppelin fan, be sure to check out my review of their comeback concert Led Zeppelin Celebration Day Review – Their Fabulous Return!
Is There A Proper Music Store Etiquette?
Back in the 60s and 70s, there was only one music store in the vicinity of where I lived. It was owned by an elderly musician who ran it like a drill sergeant!
He had all the guitars hanging up behind the counter where nobody could touch them without his permission. The amplifiers were plugged into a power strip that he controlled so he could shut you off in an instant if what you played was too loud or annoyed him!
Today, things have changed quite a bit, and chain stores like the Guitar Center have hundreds of guitars available for your playing pleasure. It’s like a self-serve musical oasis that lets you grab any guitar and plug it into any amp, and you can play until your fingers fall off!
Still, there are some basic things you can and should do to make things easier for the store staff.
Before grabbing a guitar, ensure your hands and clothing are clean. Consider removing your belt to avoid damaging the finish on the back of a guitar (“buckle rash”).
Watch Your Volume Level
It’s easy to get carried away amid the excitement of playing a new guitar or trying out a killer amp. Monitor your volume level and try to keep it at or below-speech level. The chances are you’re not the only one adding to the sound and chaos in the store.
If you need sustain or distortion, play through an amp with a Master Volume control or use a pedal.
Don’t Make A Mess
Put everything back where you found it. Equipment can easily get damaged if things get too cluttered, and people can trip and fall. Don’t depend on the sales staff to clean up your mess.
Try to be respectful to the sales staff and the other customers around you. Treat staff the way you would want to be treated in your workplace. Happy sales staff will help you find exactly what you need.
Recognize And Honor Sales Commission
If someone is helping you, ask if the store works on sales commission. It’s only right to stick with the same person since commissions can really add up at the end of the month.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about Stairway To Heaven.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
What Was Led Zeppelin’s Original Name?
Led Zeppelin was initially named the “New Yardbirds” and presumably changed to Led Zeppelin after Keith Moon said the band would go over like a lead balloon.
Why Did Led Zeppelin Break Up?
Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980 after the death of drummer and percussionist John Bonham. Robert Plant went on to have a solo career and become a record producer for other artists.
Who Sued Led Zeppelin For Stairway To Heaven?
Led Zeppelin was sued in 2014 by a US band called Taurus over a claim that Zeppelin had stolen their song’s opening riff. The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful.
What Is The Hidden Message In Stairway to Heaven?
Allegedly, there is a hidden message in the middle of the vocals with satanic references when the words are played backward. Jimmy Page supposedly had an interest in the occult and was a follower of Aleister Crowley, the English occultist.
Is Stairway To Heaven About Drugs?
Some people believe that the phrases “all that glitters is gold” and “buying a stairway to heaven” are references to drug use. Led Zeppelin has never clarified this, one way or the other.
I hope you enjoyed this article, which was meant to be more amusing than informative.
Have fun, by all means, but please remember to be considerate when you frequent your local music store.
Salespeople depend on you to do your part and your opportunity to create longstanding relationships with them, which will benefit you for years to come. They may just help you find your next “dream guitar” or show you that vintage amp they were guarding in the back room!
So, learn some new material you can proudly showcase during your next visit, and remember, “No Stairway!” 😊 🎸
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about “Why Can’t Guitarists Play Stairway To Heaven In Music Stores,” or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- Do you know how to play Stairway To Heaven?
- Was it a musical “right of passage” when you learned it?
- Does it annoy you when someone plays “Stairway” or another cliche riff in a music store?
- Has anyone ever said anything condescending to you about playing something cliche?
- What else is on your mind?