Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores?

Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores

If you’re a fan of Led Zeppelin or “Wayne’s World,” then you may have a leg up on the rest of us who are wondering “Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores” who’d dare to ban a rock classic.

When the “Wayne’s World” fans see a sign in a guitar store that reads “No Stairway to Heaven” and laugh, you know they’re sharing an inside joke. Here, Project Instrument lets the rest of the world in on it. 

So Why Is Stairway to Heaven Banned in Guitar Stores? 

According to Producer Hive, you must first take a peek at 1992’s “Wayne’s World” to understand why guitar stores might display signs that say, “No Stairway to Heaven.” 

The comedy, based on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch series featuring Michael Myers as Wayne Campbell and Dana Carvey as his sidekick, Garth, has Wayne looking at his dream guitar in a shop. 

After Wayne starts to play the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven,” a shopkeeper shuts him down and points to a sign above the store’s stairwell. The sign reads, “No Stairway to Heaven.” 

Wayne then, in an aside to his audience, says, “No Stairway. Denied!” 

Wayne, by the way, isn’t playing a particularly good version of “Stairway to Heaven.” 

Since the movie’s release, the guitar shop scene has become a pop-culture joke, especially among guitar store owners and fans of “Wayne’s World” and Led Zeppelin.

Reasons Why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Might Be Banned 

Some of rock’s greatest songs have also been among the most controversial, which adds to their intrigue for fans. “Stairway to Heaven” is no different, and its abstract lyrics leave listeners to create their own theories, controversial or not. 

Guitar store owners may have some reasons of their own for wanting to ban “Stairway to Heaven.” Here, we look at a few.  

Could It Be Satan? 

Like plenty of other rock songs, “Stairway to Heaven” has been rumored to have satanic references. If you pore over the lyrics, though, the references are nowhere to be found. It may be the ambiguity of the words that let listeners hear what they want to hear in the song.  

This may have started with rumors that Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin worshiped the devil. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. Rolling Stone thinks this may have started with Page’s interest in English occultist Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of personal liberation.  

Going all the way back to Robert Johnson’s blues classic, the idea of the devil having ties to popular music is one that runs through the reactions to rock over the years.  

We think “Stairway to Heaven” is an often-maligned rock classic with lyrics that lend themselves to metaphors. 

It’s About Drugs 

Social scientists in the 1970s analyzed the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” and determined that it was about drugs, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in 1991. How else could they explain a “lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold” and is “buying a stairway to heaven?” 

Some studying the lyrics were certain that those lyrics were a reference to Acapulco Gold, and that “Stairway to Heaven” was a reference to getting really high. 

However, plenty of other listeners didn’t see the drug reference and instead see it as a song of spirituality and of a greedy woman who is overly ambitious when looking toward her future.  

Bad Guitar Playing 

Here we might be getting closer to the truth. Depending on who is shopping, a guitar store can be the scene for a cacophony or an impromptu jam session. Guitar store owners have probably heard more bad versions of “Stairway to Heaven” than good ones, though.  

It may also be irritating to guitar store owners when those who aren’t really shopping come in, play instruments badly, and get all the guitars out of tune before leaving. 

Over Playing 

Here’s another reason that’s likely close to the truth. “Stairway to Heaven” is one of rock’s greatest songs, but that also means it is played frequently. Even Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s vocalist and lyricist of “Stairway to Heaven,” got tired of hearing it. 

How tired? So tired that he called a radio station and paid them $10,000 to not play “Stairway to Heaven.” 

‘Stairway to Heaven’ Trivia 

One of rock’s greatest songs, “Stairway to Heaven” has plenty of trivia. Taking a few of these facts to heart will make you a contender during Led Zeppelin trivia night at your local pub. 

How Long Did It Take to Write ‘Stairway to Heaven?’ 

“Stairway to Heaven” was written over the course of several weeks in late 1970 and early 1971. The song was released as part of the album Led Zeppelin IV that year. 

How Long is ‘Stairway to Heaven?’ 

“Stairway to Heaven” is among rock’s longer songs, lasting a full eight minutes and two seconds.  

Critical Response to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ 

The bar for Led Zeppelin III was set high. After the success of Led Zeppelin I and II, the band was among the world’s most popular. Following those rock- and blues-based albums, Led Zeppelin III was the antithesis to them, drawing lukewarm reviews from critics at the time.  

Then came Led Zeppelin IV in late 1971. The range – from gentle acoustic to roaring metal – and the storytelling of Led Zeppelin IV make it a rock masterpiece, critics including the Rolling Stone have written. It is considered the quintessential Led Zeppelin album.  

Not everyone was a “Stairway to Heaven” fan, though. Music critic Lester Bangs famously called the song a “thicket of misbegotten mush!” 

What Do the Lyrics Mean? 

Because of the abstract quality of the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven,” listeners try to make the words metaphors and give them other meanings. The song’s lyricist, Robert Plant said the words came originally as a couplet evoking the Welsh culture.  

Plant has said he started writing the song while in a bad mood, but that the words began to flow.  

“I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leapt out of my seat,” he said in an interview.  

While the lyrics have been analyzed and interpreted since the early 1970s, we think the best way to enjoy “Stairway to Heaven” is to understand the lyrics as they’re written.  

Though Plant himself says that he can interpret the lyrics differently from day to day. The song is about materialism and greed and a woman who takes without giving anything in return. 

How Was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Written? 

Plant and band mate Page, who wrote the music of “Stairway to Heaven,” worked on the song by a fire one night at Headley Grange, a former poorhouse in Hampshire, England, in October 1970. From there, rock history was made.  

Plant completed the lyrics a few weeks later, and “Stairway to Heaven” was released the same year.  

Page said in a BBC interview that he started by trying “to put something together that started with an exposed acoustic guitar.” 

Led Zeppelin bass guitarist John Paul Jones had the idea of adding recorder music to the song.  

The song, as it progresses “keeps unfolding,” said Page. Increasing the tempo and passion as the song progressed was breaking a cardinal rule of the time. 

“Stairway to Heaven,” he said, “was quite substantial as a milestone for Led Zeppelin.” 

And for the entire rock genre.  

What Is the Forbidden Riff? 

The opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven” somehow became known as the “forbidden riff,” but there’s no clear explanation for why.  

Some who think the song doesn’t live up to its hype are so anti-Stairway that they don’t even want to hear the beginning notes to “Stairway to Heaven.”  

However, it may be forbidden to guitarists who don’t play it well or by guitar store owners who get tired of hearing beginning guitarists play it often and poorly. The lesson here is to do your practicing at home.  

Was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Stolen? 

In 2014, the band Spirit sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, claiming that “Stairway to Heaven” was plagiarizing their song, Taurus. Spirit had opened for Led Zeppelin, so the band members knew each other and each other’s music. 

Led Zeppelin won the case in 2016, but Spirit appealed the verdict, which was upheld in 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2020, declined to hear the case, putting the court battle to rest. 

Curious to hear the two songs compared? Visit YouTube to listen and decide for yourself.  

How to Play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ 

If you’re interested in learning to play the guitar, starting out with popular songs is one way to make your musical hobby more fun. Since “Stairway to Heaven” is an often-requested song and among rock’s best, it may be one that you’ll want to learn to play.  

Online, you’ll find tabs, sheet music, and videos for rock standards such as “Stairway to Heaven.” Learning classics such as this will not only make you feel like one of your rock heroes, but your friends will enjoy hearing you cover some of the songs they know and love. 

YouTube includes plenty of easy music lessons on playing “Stairway to Heaven,” so you may want to add this rock classic to your repertoire. 

Get the Led Out 

We can’t speak for all guitar shops, so “Stairway to Heaven” might truly be banned by some music stores. For the vast majority, banning “Stairway to Heaven” is a joke shared among fans of Led Zeppelin and Wayne Campbell.  

Wayne isn’t alone in loving “Stairway to Heaven.” The song has been admired and analyzed for five decades because of the brilliance of its music and lyrics. Still, some aren’t fans of the Led Zeppelin classic and might want to ban it. 

We hope that watching “Wayne’s World” or listening to “Stairway to Heaven” will interest you in the brilliant music of Led Zeppelin and, for beginners, in learning to play the guitar.  

Our Instrument Guide is available to help you achieve your goals in music. 

Whether you’re just starting or are a seasoned professional, the musicians of Project Instrument can help you in finding the perfect musical instrument. Check out our article on different types of guitars