How the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Joke in ‘Wayne’s World’ Got Mangled on Home Video
Wayne's World is full of jokes based on rock music. Still, for musicians, perhaps one gag stands alone in the 1992 movie starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as lovable headbangers. And that's when Myers' Wayne gets barred from playing "Stairway to Heaven" on guitar in a music store.
But if you've watched the movie recently, you might remember the guitar riff Wayne ekes out before an employee stops him doesn't sound much like the Led Zeppelin classic. So how did the filmmakers get the notes so wrong? Or was the scene's shredding never actually intended to evoke "Stairway"?
That's the question GQ explored for the movie's 25th anniversary. It turns out that, when first released in U.S. theaters, Wayne's World included a riff more recognizably Zeppelin. But, as director Penelope Spheeris once explained, the rights for even a few notes of the song got too steep for the film's home release.
"With 'Stairway to Heaven' we were told that we could only use two notes before we'd have to pay $100,000, so to sell that he's gonna play' Stairway to Heaven' in two notes is pretty difficult," Spheeris told Billboard in 2017. "I don't know this to be absolutely true, but somebody told me that in the first version of the movie we play too many notes. So they had to go back in and edit a note or two out."
That's the version of Wayne's World that's persisted on home media following the film's theatrical run. If you watch the movie today, the "Stairway to Heaven" joke still doesn't land quite right, GQ's Scott Meslow suggests.
Around midway through the rock-fueled comedy based on an SNL skit, Wayne enters a music store to try out an alluring Fender Stratocaster. He starts playing a riff, but a store associate stops him and points to a sign that reads, "No Stairway to Heaven." "No 'Stairway,'" Wayne gasps. "Denied!"
For musicians new and old, it's a gag that's stuck for over 25 years. It's just too bad the joke stumbles when Wayne's World is viewed today. But, hey, you can never be too careful when it comes to Led Zeppelin-related legalities.
"No 'Stairway'" Scene from Wayne's World
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