Ultimate Guide to the Forbidden Riff

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You might think that playing a popular guitar solo piece in a guitar shop would be cool. But did you know that some guitar stores forbid customers from playing certain songs in their shops? The banning of “Forbidden Riff” songs is not because they’re illegal. They’re just overplayed and actually have a movie reference. Read on to find out more.

History of the “Forbidden Riff”

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was released in 1971 and quickly became one of the most iconic rock songs. It’s so popular that it is the biggest-selling single in rock history, with about 15,000 copies sold every year. In 2004, the song appeared on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at the 31st spot.

But beyond the song’s success, it is marred with allegations of copyright infringement. In 2014, Spirit accused Led Zepellin of ripping the opening guitar intro – yes, the 50-seconds of the song. The long legal battle finally favored Led Zepellin in 2020.


Pop Culture: “No Stairway, Denied!”

So, you might think, “If Stairway to Heaven is so popular and successful, why can’t I play it in guitar stores?” Well, you can blame pop culture for it.

In the movie Wayne’s World, the lead character, Wayne, played by Mike Myers, grabbed a guitar and was about to play the opening riff to “Stairway to Heaven.” However, the shop attendant stopped him and pointed to a sign that said “NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.”


Stairway to Heaven is technically not banned in guitar stores, but Wayne’s catchy “No Stairway, Denied” statement stuck with many people, including guitar shops. You might even see “No Stairway to Heaven” signs, but it’s more of an ode to the movie. And, no, playing the song in guitar stores is not illegal. People just choose not to play Stairway to Heaven because, well, it’s overplayed and out of courtesy.

Other Overplayed Song Riffs in Guitar Stores

In addition to Stairway to Heaven, you should also avoid the following songs when trying a new guitar in the shop.


1. Wonderwall by Oasis

Oasis released “Wonderwall” in 1995. After its release, the song topped the charts in New Zealand and Australia and was top 10 in 13 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

2. Sweet Child ‘O Mine by Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses released “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” in 1988 and quickly topped the Billboard Top 100 in the U.S. Surprisingly, it was the only Guns N’ Roses song to land the top spot on the Billboard charts.

3. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

The success of “Smells like Teen Spirit” came in 1991 and 1992 when the song topped the music charts in several countries. Listeners gave it the name “anthem for apathetic kids.”

4. Enter Sandman by Metallica

Enter Sandman reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. With more than 1 million copies sold in the U.S..The song achieved platinum certification.

5. Seven Nation Army by White Stripes

Seven Nation Army is popular with guitar aficionados. The song won the title “Best Rock Song” in the 46th Grammy Awards.

6. Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple

“Smoke on the Water” is a classic rock song by the British band Deep Purple, released in 1972 on their album “Machine Head.” Known for its iconic four-note guitar riff, the song tells the true story of a fire that destroyed the Montreux Casino in Switzerland during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971.

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Bobby is a viola player who currently lives in Seattle. He has been playing viola for over 20 years in various orchestras.


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