Have you heard of the ‘forbidden riff’ that is joked must be avoided at all costs?
The truth is, there are actually a number of these riffs, and yes, some of them actually are banned in music stores around the world.
But what are the forbidden guitar riffs, and what is the story behind them?
Let’s take a quick journey back to the 1970’s…
The Origin Of The ‘Forbidden Riff’
The concept of ‘forbidden riffs’ dates all the way back to a guitar shop in London, way back in 1973.
Just like today, shoppers would often go into the shops and try out various instruments prior to purchase.
However, like all instruments, many guitarists never make it beyond the beginner stages. Because of this, there are a lot of people that only know the same handful of beginner-friendly riffs.
Which led to guitarists playing them constantly throughout the day – often poorly.
Needless to say, this became a source of frustration for store owners who had to listen to them over, and over, and over again.
Turns out, there can be too much of a good thing.
So, What Actually Is The Forbidden Riff?
As mentioned a moment ago, there are a number of forbidden riffs today, and there may be even more in the future.
However, the most common song people are referring to when they mention the forbidden riff, is Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Stairway To Heaven.’
Although arguably one of the greatest songs ever written, it’s also one of the most overplayed by beginners. It’s not difficult for new guitarists to get an amazing sound out of the instrument with Stairway To Heaven, which led to it being played repeatedly by people coming into the stores.
It was also one of the most overplayed songs on the radio, having been played over 3 million times. Combine that with the fact that Led Zeppelin was incredibly popular and their album sold over 37 million copies, and it’s fair to say that people were already very familiar with the song.
Just like they are today – it still receives regular plays among classic rock radio stations all over the world.
Anyhow, hearing a beginner play it yet again got old quickly, and it became a running joke that it was to be banned from ever being played when trying out guitars.
Then, the idea of the forbidden riff was popularized by Wayne’s World in 1992, which can be viewed in the following clip:
(There was also a whole spiel about Stairway To Heaven containing messages from Satan if played backwards, but we won’t get into that.)
Today, the whole idea of the forbidden riff is mostly a joke among guitarists, and you probably won’t get kicked out of anywhere for playing it.
Still, that’s not to say you won’t receive any judgement for playing the forbidden riff – or any of the other forbidden riffs I’m about to share with you from more experienced players.
My take on it?
Play whatever the heck you want. If you can only play a few simple riffs, embrace it.
After all, you’re at the store to get a feel for the instrument and find a sound you like, not to put on a performance.
Well, hopefully. Hang around in a guitar store for too long, and you’ll inevitably find someone playing as if they were Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.
What Are The Other Forbidden Guitar Riffs?
So, what are other riffs that are joked to be forbidden? If it’s easy and it’s overplayed, it will probably be on the list. Still, here are some specific songs that fit the bill:
- Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple (when I first heard of the forbidden riff, I actually expected it to be this one!)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Iron Man – Black Sabbath
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Enter Sandman – Metallica
- Wonderwall – Oasis
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes (This one primarily applies for bassists.)
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
- Back In Black – AC/DC
- Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
These aren’t in any particular order, and if you’re a fan of rock or metal music you may know many of these songs already.
Still, we’ve took the liberty of putting a playlist together for you if you want to take a listen!
When it comes down to it, the whole idea of a forbidden riff is mainly just an inside joke within guitar culture.
Although some variety is certainly appreciated, feel free to play whatever you want that’s allowed within your guitar store of choice – just don’t feel bad if somebody jokes about it with you!
Finally, if you have any other forbidden riffs that you feel we should add to this list, leave a comment below and let us know.