Why is Stairway to Heaven the Forbidden Riff

Ever walked into a guitar store and heard the clerk say, “No Stairway, denied!”? That’s because ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin is often dubbed the ‘forbidden riff’. But why is this iconic tune so taboo in music shops around the world? Let’s dive into the backstory.

‘Stairway to Heaven’ is undeniably one of the most recognizable songs in rock history. Its opening riff is a rite of passage for many budding guitarists, but it’s also a source of annoyance for many store employees. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind this paradox.

From copyright issues to its overplayed status, there’s more to this forbidden riff than meets the eye. Stick around as we uncover the mystery behind the ban of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in guitar stores and why it’s considered the forbidden riff.

The Controversy Surrounding “Stairway to Heaven”

While the riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is often touted as a masterpiece of rock music, it’s also a source of controversy. From legal battles to a ubiquitous presence in music stores, the track has generated a fair share of disagreement in its time.

The Musical Mastery of “Stairway to Heaven”

Arguably one of the most recognizable rock anthems of all time, “Stairway to Heaven” showcases the adept musical prowess of Led Zeppelin. Comprised of Jimmy Page’s intricate guitar work and Robert Plant’s distinctive vocals, it’s easy to see why the eight-minute epic has etched its name in the annals of rock history.

The song’s haunting melody, accompanied by Page’s signature guitar licks, render “Stairway to Heaven” a phenomenon in its own right. It’s taught in countless guitar tutorials, referenced in pop culture, and faithfully covered by artists of all genres. You’d be hard-pressed not to find it on any ‘Greatest Hits’ list of classic rock music.

Yet that very omnipresence has proved a double-edged sword. Its widespread acclaim led to allegations of it being overplayed, with some guitar stores even banning the song altogether due to its constant presence.

The Chord Progression that Defines a Generation

“Stairway to Heaven” did more than just top the charts; it effortlessly dictated the musical zeitgeist of the ’70s. The song’s iconic progression with its unique mix of folk, hard rock and psychedelia still resonates with today’s audience.

The four-chord backbone of the song—Am, G, F, G—has since been dubbed ‘the forbidden riff’. Used in a multitude of hits, it’s a testament to the song’s timeless appeal.

However, this ubiquitous four-chord progression has also led to the accusation of Led Zeppelin plagiarizing the song. A lawsuit filed against the band claimed that the chord progression bore a striking similarity to Spirit’s “Taurus”. But despite these legal hiccups, “Stairway to Heaven” has managed to retain its legendary status—and its ban in guitar stores.

The Legal Battle Over “Stairway to Heaven”

From its original 1971 release, “Stairway to Heaven” had always been a marvel. But a shadow soon fell on its legacy when accusations of plagiarism threatened to mar its glory.

The Accusation of Plagiarism

Claims began to surface in the late 80s that the song’s phenomenal opening guitar riff plagiarized the chord progression of “Taurus,” – a song by the American rock band Spirit. It’s worth noting that Led Zeppelin and Spirit had crossed paths during their touring days in the late 1960s, fueling the rumors of musical thievery. In my perspective, the similarity between the two songs raised myriad eyebrows due to its undeniable resemblance. This led to a tense atmosphere and salted wounds that were waiting for a legal turn of events.

The Copyright Lawsuit

Fast forward to 2014, the claimancy took a turn for the legal. Michael Skidmore, trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust (Randy Wolfe was Spirit’s guitarist), sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, demanding a rewriting of rock history. The core of the dispute resided in the U.S copyright law restricting protection to sheet music, and the plaintiff sought to prove the recordings had been copied. I must emphasize the complexity of this case – it was more than just a war of melodies.

The Jury Verdict

Perhaps the most intriguing element in this saga was the final verdict. Despite the glaring similarities and online theories, the jury decided in 2016 that Led Zeppelin had not infringed the copyright of “Taurus.” The reason being, in their opinion, the iconic chord sequence was common enough in the music field and didn’t cross the line into plagiarism.