Acoustic Guitar Riffs We Love to Hate

Posted by Blair Winans

Here's an interesting bit of trivia: in the mid-70's, some British music stores banned or fined their patrons for playing the opening riff to "Stairway to Heaven" because it was played so often. Urban myth or not, this comical image was immortalized in the classic man-child, musical adventure Wayne's World. 

And while STH may not be as ubiquitous in today's music store as it was then, there are certainly a handful of songs that I wouldn't mind retiring to the Music Emporium rafters. 

  • The first to come to mind is the old Elizabeth Cotten tune, Freight Train. A favorite among the budding fingerstyle player, it's rather innocuous upon first listen, but tends to wear thin after the hundredth rendition. 
  • The Allman Brother's Melissa is a wonderful tune and oddly enough still has some staying power when it pops up on my car stereo. But something happens to it when arranged for solo guitar, sans vocals, played in dirge time. Having a friend solo along definitely helps.
  • Zeppelin's Over the Hills and Far Away is a guilty pleasure I admit.  I can still remember how thrilled I was the day I learned to play this tune, oh so many years ago, and I'd hate to begrudge anyone from letting it rip on a nice high end guitar. It's the rough renditions played on inexpensive, poorly tuned 12-strings that really raise the hackles. (Remind me to stop carrying those nasty things).
  • Beatles fans are not going to take kindly to this next one, and I really never imagined that this harmless ditty could take on such notoriety, but the number one most-played tune, to the point where a warning sign may indeed have to be posted, is Blackbird. Lovely as it is, eyebrows will certainly be raised upon its opening bars.

I write all of this with a knowing and sympathetic smile, because deep down I can still remember the unbridled joy I experienced when I learned each of these tunes. And music is, after all, for the sharing. As a budding guitarist, the first thing I'd do when I found myself in a guitar shop was to systematically run through my top ten classic rock riffs, in the hopes that I could prove my worthiness to the store's proprietor, or anyone else who happened to be listening. It's what we did, and still do, as recreational guitar users. And if these tunes bring such a thrill on our ho-hum guitars at home, how much better must they sound on a $4000 Collings!

Here are a few of the tunes I played incessantly during my early guitar years, and still break them out from time to time:

  • My Sweet Lord
  • Pinball Wizard  
  • Ramble On
  • Message in a Bottle
  • Blackbird (yeah, so!)

I invite you to share some of your top tunes, cherished, worn thin or guilty pleasure. And when you're next in the store, if the mood calls for a little "Stairway" or "More Than a Feeling" by all means, crack a smile and let 'er rip! You'll definitely get our attention.

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