Imagine being stuck with a playlist of 15-20 songs and having to hear it over and over again every single day as a part of your job. Also, these songs are performed by beginners who have just started to learn the guitar, not the recorded versions by the original artists. Yes, this is what the guitar store staff must endure every day.
What are Forbidden Riffs?
Riffs are a set of notes or chords that are usually repeatedly played in a song.1 Learners are normally taught and encouraged to explore popular songs with easy-to-learn riffs to begin with during their guitar lessons. In fact, it is very common for even the families of kids who are excited to learn the guitar to be sick of hearing a few tunes being played on repeat!
However, after a while, students move on to new songs, and their families are relieved by the transition. This is sadly not the case for the employees who encounter beginners who are there to test out their first guitar. Thus the term forbidden riffs came to be. It refers to songs that employees in a guitar store are fed up of hearing.2
The Idea of the Forbidden Riffs Started in London
It is widely speculated that it all started around the 1970s in guitar stores around London. Guitar store employees in the city started to circulate a list of songs that beginners overplayed and since then the idea spread to the rest of the world and the list kept growing.
How “Stairway to Heaven” Factors Into All of This
The popularity of forbidden riffs further rose in 1992 after the release of the comedy movie Wayne’s World. In one of the scenes, Mike Myers, who plays the character of Wayne in the movie, is stopped from playing Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at a guitar store. The song is one of the most commonly played tunes by beginners and the movie played a significant role in cementing the idea of the forbidden riffs.
So, Can you Play A Forbidden Riff at a Guitar Store or Not?
This whole concept is more like an inside joke that is not meant to be taken seriously. Store owners or staff don’t usually stop people from playing any tunes and are generally used to it as they deal with numerous newbies every day.
Some stores may have posters of a list of songs that are banned in the store just for fun. In such cases, if you’re not sure just ask the staff if it’s okay to play a song that is on the list to test out the guitars.
List of Songs That are Overplayed at Guitar Stores
There are two types of forbidden riffs and guitar store employees are tired of hearing both types but are used to it—songs with basic chords that are easy to play and songs that are a bit harder and don’t sound good when performed by beginners as they’re still learning them. Here’s a list of songs that includes both types that are considered to be overplayed at guitar stores.
- Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin
- Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns ‘N Roses
- The House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals
- Enter Sandman – Metallica
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Back In Black – AC/DC
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
- Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
- Blackbird – The Beatles
- Wonderwall – Oasis
- Eruption – Van Halen
- One – Metallica
- Bleed – Meshuggah
- Come As You Are – Nirvana
- Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
- Iron Man – Black Sabbath
- Walk – Pantera
- More Than Words – Extreme
- Everlong – Foo Fighters
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1. Riff Definition & Meaning | Britannica Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/riff
2. Forbidden Riffs – 21 Songs Banned In Guitar Stores. (n.d.). Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://leftyfretz.com/forbidden-riffs/