When I started learning guitar as a young teen in the late 70’s I remember thinking how great it would be if I could play ‘Stairway to Heaven’. By the time I could play it every guitar store had a sign saying ‘NO STAIRWAY’. They were obviously sick of hearing people like me playing it for ten thousandth time that day. At the time I felt very disheartened because I had work long and hard to play a song that was essentially band in public. There have been a few songs that come close to the same level guitar worship over the years but I can’t think of any that would get you kicked out of guitar shops across the English speaking world if you played them.
I recently became curious about this phenomenon. Firstly what was it about Stairway that drove so many people to want to play it on guitar. After all there were thousands of great songs that were just as worthy. And secondly why did it eventually get banned in guitar shops? Wasn’t this song responsible for a surge in guitar sales? Why weren’t guitar shops celebrating this craze?
I think this demonstrates Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’ theory. In the late 70’s Stairway had tipped and suddenly everybody wanted a copy of the album (the song was not available as a single in many countries). This then created a wave of new guitarists including myself. Because most of us were new to the guitar we were not really able to do Stairway justice. This meant shop owners were listening to poor renditions of the song all day everyday. The pain of hearing kids struggling through Stairway for 8 hours a day verses the extra guitar sales was too much. Somewhere in the world in a guitar shop someone stuck up a sign saying ‘NO STAIRWAY’. The word soon spread through out the world and it seemed at one point that playing Stairway anywhere at anytime was worse than terrorism. Strange times.
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David Hart – Program Director
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