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Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?

Updated on May 9, 2020
Selena Campbell profile image

Selena's ambition? Music of course. Even though she doesn't yet have a band, she dreams of performing at the Wembley Stadium.

How did Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest and most innovative rock bands in history, create a piece of music that everyone seemingly has a love-hate relationship with? Well, hypothetically speaking, since Led Zeppelin has managed to get everyone talking about Stairway to Heaven, the song is a masterpiece! In fact, Stairway to Heaven is one of the many from Led Zeppelin that influenced the progressive rock era!

But if that’s the case, why is it banned in guitar stores?

Why was it Banned?

Remember how I mentioned that Stairway to Heaven practically paved the way for the rock era? When the song was released in 1971, it became THE song that almost every beginner guitarist wanted to learn. We technically can’t blame them since the intro and guitar solo of Stairway to Heaven sounds extremely badass! Slowly but surely, signs with a list of banned songs are being put up in guitar shops. Without a doubt, Stairway to Heaven is on the list as well. But we can’t blame the staff either as they are probably forced to listen to hundreds of horribly played riffs of the same song over and over again.

“No Stairway? Denied!” - History in the Making

Even though such signs existed in guitar stores, the banning of Stairway to Heaven is actually made popular from the surprise hit - Wayne’s World, 1992. In the clip, the main character who is played by Mike Myers was immediately asked to stop playing by the store manager after just playing a few notes. That’s when the famous phrase “No Stairway? Denied!” was uttered, becoming a running joke in the guitar community.

So why was it funny? Simple because it was relatable. Especially for the guitar store owners. Even though the relatability of the joke has faded off through the years, it remains relevant by integrating itself into the meme culture.

Hold up, Stairway to Heaven Conspiracies?

Satanic Messages

In 1982, Televangelist Paul Crouch claimed that there’s a particular segment of Stairway to Heaven that plays a satanic message. He claimed that Led Zeppelin purposely hid the message through a technique called backmasking. However, Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin denies the allegations by saying “Who on Earth would have ever thought of doing that? You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that.”

In any case, here’s Stairway to Heaven backwards.

Copyright Case

Although Stairway to Heaven has been around since 1971, a lawsuit was filed against Led Zeppelin in 2014 on stealing parts of a song from another rock band - Spirit. It claimed that the riff of Stairway to Heaven was stolen from a song called Taurus. Oddly enough, the guitarist and writer of Spirit, Randy Wolfe, was not involved in the lawsuit as he had passed on in 1997. Instead, the lawsuit was filed by a journalist called Michael Skidmore who became a co-trustee of the Randy Craige Wolfe Trust in 2006.

Although the case was ruled against Skidmore in 2016, it was revived in 2018 by another panel from 9th Circuit. Eventually, the appeal was held in September 2019 with a panel of 11 judges. But as Taurus was registered in 1967, the song falls under the Copyright Act of 1909 which only covers sheet music, not recordings. It’s only until 1978 that artists are able to submit a recording to register for copyright. Finally, in March 2020, Led Zeppelin won the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, listen to Taurus for yourselves!

And if you would like to watch a more in-depth comparison of both songs, here’s a thorough explanation from Rick Beato!

How to Play Stairway To Heaven?

Truth be told, if I were to rank myself, I’d probably say that I’m a novice guitarist. But with one of the most iconic riffs in the world that uses a fingerpicking style, it’s natural that anyone would like to learn the song! If you are a novice like me, this is a video by Leonardo Puertas that I use to learn the song!

If you are unable to follow without instructions, I’d recommend you to check out this tutorial by Marty Music!

But, if you think that you are good on your own, here is the tab of Stairway To Heaven from Ultimate Guitar that you can refer to.

Good luck and practice hard!

Other Banned Songs in Guitar Stores

If you think Stairway to Heaven is the only masterpiece that’s overplayed in guitar stores, think again. Here are a few famous songs that have fallen into the beginner’s trap as well. May they all see the light again someday…

(I’m practically enabling you to be that one person in the Guitar Stores)

  • Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple

  • Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd

  • Hotel California - Eagles

  • Blackbird - The Beatles

  • Sweet Child O’ Mine - Guns N’ Roses

  • Enter Sandman - Metallica

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana

Ramble On Sing My Song

It’s really heartbreaking to think that after all that practise, we are not able to play Stairway to Heaven in guitar stores as a form of respect for the staff… Not!

Perhaps it was actually banned during the 1970s and 1980s, but logically speaking, no one will actually kick potential streams of income out of their store willingly. More often than not, instead of being ‘banned’, the song is just overplayed. It could be annoying to some but, ultimately, if you like Stairway To Heaven, just play it however much you want!


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