the original RIAA gold standard was based on units of one million

THE ORIGINAL RIAA GOLD RECORDS were in­tro­duced in 1958, and there were only two awards: a Gold Record for sin­gles, and a Gold Record for LPs. To qualify, a single must have sold a min­imum of 1,000,000 copies, while an LP album must have sold $1,000,000 at the man­u­fac­tur­er’s whole­sale price. There were no “unit” sales re­quired for LP cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, and there were no Plat­inum Record Awards.

The Record In­dustry As­so­ci­a­tion of America (orig­i­nally R.I.A.A., now RIAA sans pe­riods) stepped in to offer in­de­pen­dently au­dited and cer­ti­fied ‘of­fi­cial’ awards in place of the common awards made by in­di­vidual record companies. 

While the RI­AA’s cri­teria for a single were simple (a mil­lion copies sold to re­tailers and jukebox op­er­a­tors pe­riod), it was more com­pli­cated for LPs. The million-dollar figure was ar­rived at by using one-third (33⅓%) of the man­u­fac­tur­er’s sug­gested re­tail price.

 

Did you know that many of to­day’s Plat­inum Record Awards were merely yes­ter­day’s Gold Record Awards?

 

The number of records sold had ab­solutely nothing to do with the orig­inal Gold Record Award for LP al­bums! The idea was to rec­og­nize a “million-dollar album,” as it was all about the dol­lars and cents. 1

These re­tail prices varied from as low as $2.95 to as high as $5.95 for a single LP album. Since 1955, most pop vocal and in­stru­mental LPs (which in­cluded country & western, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll) were priced at $3.95 (or $3.98). Al­bums by artists in these fields had to sell more than 830,000 copies to reach the $1,000,000 whole­sale level!

 

Original RIAA: photo of label of RCA Victor 47-7128, Perry Como's "Catch A Falling Star."

Re­leased in Jan­uary 1958, Perry Co­mo’s first single of the new year was a double-sided hit: Catch A Falling Star peaked at #2 on the Cash Box Top 100 but only reached #9 on Bill­board’s Top 100. The flip-side, Magic Mo­ments, peaked at #21 on Cash Box and got to #27 on Billboard. 

The first RIAA gold records

On March 14, 1958, the RIAA pre­sented its first Gold Record Award to Perry Como for Catch A Falling Star (RCA Victor 47-7128, re­leased in De­cember 1957) in recog­ni­tion of having sold a min­imum of 1,000,000 copies in the US.

This was fol­lowed on July 8, 1958, with the first Gold Record award to an LP album when the sound­track album  OKLAHOMA! (Capitol SAO-595, re­leased in Au­gust 1955) passed the million-dollar mark.

 

Original RIAA: front cover of Capitol SAO-595, the soundtrack album OKLAHOMA!

Ob­vi­ously, by mid-1958, Ok­la­homa! had sold the req­ui­site 830,000 copies to qualify for and re­ceive the fist RIAA Gold Record for an LP. Ac­cording to Joseph Mur­rells, the album passed the mil­lion mark in copies sold in 1959 (al­though the ad­di­tional sales may in­clude those out­side the US). 2

The new RIAA gold album

In 1975, the RIAA amended its re­quire­ments for Gold Record Awards for al­bums. They re­quired two cri­teria to be met for certification:

1.  The album must still sell $1,000,000 at the whole­sale level, which was still de­fined as one-third of the man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price.

2. The album must also sell at least 500,000 units, meaning ei­ther LPs or pre-recorded tapes. (CDs were added later.)

The rea­soning be­hind the first re­quire­ment is ob­vious: it main­tained the orig­inal con­cept of the “million-dollar album.” The rea­soning be­hind the second is not: 500,000 is an ar­bi­trary figure. The RIAA could have chosen 750,000, which would have main­tained a sem­blance of the orig­inal standards.

Or they could have chosen 400,000, which would have ac­knowl­edged the prices of al­bums in 1976 and rec­og­nized that those prices would con­tinue to rise with time.

But they set­tled on 500,000, where it has re­mained since.

These new stan­dards took ef­fect in 1976.

 

Original RIAA: front cover of Bob Dylan's PLANET WAVES album.

Re­leased in Jan­uary 1974, Bob Dy­lan’s PLANET WAVES was cursed with a cover that fea­tured this ghastly art by the singer. Within was music so raw and un­re­hearsed that the fin­ished product sounds like sloppy demo tapes rather than the com­pleted work of a suc­cessful artist. Nonethe­less, the album quickly went gold, be­coming the first album to be cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award with sales com­fort­ably less than 500,000. This was due to the re­cent change in re­tail pricing: LPs went from $5.99 to $6.99. 3

The first RIAA platinum records

In 1976, the RIAA in­tro­duced its Plat­inum Record Awards for sin­gles: a title must sell 2,000,000 copies to qualify for a Plat­inum Record Award. De­spite there having many many 45s to have reached this level of sales in the pre­vious eigh­teen years, the in­dustry made an event out of the first ‘of­fi­cial’ award pre­sented to Johnny Taylor for Disco Lady on Feb­ruary 24, 1976.

In 1976, the RIAA in­tro­duced its Plat­inum Record Awards for al­bums: a title must sell $2,000,000 at the whole­sale level plus the title must sell at least 1,000,000 units. De­spite there having many many al­bums to have reached this level of sales in the pre­vious eigh­teen years, the in­dustry made an event out of the first ‘of­fi­cial’ pre­sented to the Ea­gles for THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971-1975 on Feb­ruary 24, 1976.

 

Original RIAA: photo of label to Columbia 3-10281, Johnny Taylor's "Disco Lady."

Yes, chil­dren, at the height of the Disco Era people ac­tu­ally bought mil­lions of records like this. While I could be cur­mud­geonly and call it feath­er­weight dance music, I will in­stead say it was a time when form and style were pre­ferred over sub­stance in pop music by mil­lions of people around the world.

The original RIAA criteria vs. the new

The RI­AA’s cri­teria for Gold Record status for sin­gles has only changed once since 1958: starting in 1989, the qual­i­fi­ca­tions for a single was halved—it need only sell 500,000 copies to qualify for a Gold Record. Aside from di­min­ishing the stature of the award com­pared to past re­cip­i­ents, the RIAA al­lowed the new stan­dards to be ap­plied retroac­tively! So …

 Every RIAA Gold Record Award for a single that was un­cer­ti­fied and pre­sented prior to Jan­uary 1, 1989, was based on sales of 1,000,000 copies in the US. That is, they were million-sellers.

•  Every RIAA Gold Record Award for a single since Jan­uary 1, 1989, was based on sales of 500,000 copies in the US. That is, they may or may not have been million-sellers.

Now, the RIAA left the door open: sin­gles that sold more than a mil­lion copies in the US could be re-certified by the RIAA for a brand spanking new Plat­inum Record Award. The record com­pa­nies simply had to pay for a new audit and the new cer­ti­fi­ca­tion fee.

Just as many com­pa­nies re­fused to go along with the RI­AA’s fees in the first place, many have re­fused to go along with the re-certification scam.

So, in a move that de­fies ra­tio­nality, every single with Gold Record Award made to a single prior to Jan­uary 1, 1989—meaning it is a guar­an­teed million-selling record—is now of­fi­cially listed with sales of only 500,000 copies!

 

Original RIAA: front cover of US version of the Monkees album PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN & JONES LTD.

On No­vember 2, 1967, the Mon­kees is­sued their fourth album, clev­erly if awk­wardly ti­tled after the group’s as­tro­log­ical signs. Like the first three al­bums, it topped the Bill­board best-selling LP survey. It was awarded an RIAA Gold Record upon re­lease for sales of $1,000,000 and has since been cer­ti­fied 2xPlatinum. This lovely painting graced the cover of the album and served as the art that can be found at the top of this pate on my website. 

Monkee’s gold devalued

That means that even the RIAA web­site has it wrong for many records. The point is to make the point that ‘of­fi­cial’ million-sellers are no longer ‘of­fi­cially’ million-sellers! So here is a list of the Mon­kees’ million-selling sin­gles. The date is that of the record’s re­ceiving a Gold Record Award cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for 1,000,0000 copies sold in the United States. 4

Last Train To Clarksville                                                   Oc­tober 27, 1966
I’m A Be­liever                                                                  No­vember 28, 1966
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You                                             March 8, 1967
Pleasant Valley Sunday                                                             July 14, 1967
Day­dream Be­liever                                                         No­vember 14, 1967
Val­leri                                                                                  Feb­ruary 26, 1968

Each of these cer­ti­fied million-sellers is now listed by the RIAA as half-million (or “0.5 mil­lion”) sellers. Click here to see the list­ings on the RI­AA’s site.

The same ap­plies thou­sands of records is­sued and cer­ti­fied be­fore 1989, including—of all things!—the first cer­ti­fied million-selling single, Catch A Falling Star! It is no longer a record that sold an easy million—it is now and pos­sibly for­ever after a 0.5 million-seller. 

 

Original RIAA: front cover of the Eagles album THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971-1975.

While this Ea­gles album was far from the first LP to have sold a mil­lion copies in these here United States, it was the first to have been awarded Plat­inum Record by the RIAA. And the ges­ture proved pre­scient: THEIR GREATEST HITS has con­tinued to sell in mas­sive quan­ti­ties ever since, Cur­rently, it’s tied with Michael Jack­son’s THRILLER as the biggest selling album of all time with more than 29,000,000 units moved!

It’s not gonna get better soon

The shifting cri­teria and de­f­i­n­i­tions of the RIAA have made ac­cu­rate re­porting on sales sta­tis­tics form thou­sands of records rather dif­fi­cult for the thou­sands of wannabe writers in record col­lecting and es­pe­cially on the Internet.

Every­thing from fan sites to Wikipedia con­tin­u­ally makes state­ments based on the crap on the RIAA site and the fact that so many In­ternet writers are poor re­searchers with no back­ground or understanding. 

Fi­nally, the sub­title to this ar­ticle is “many in­ternet facts are un­in­ten­tion­ally al­ter­na­tive facts.” Of course, I used it to at­tract at­ten­tion. Nonethe­less, it’s true: many ‘facts’ pre­sented by well-intentioned writers on rep­utable web­sites are simply not so—hence they al­ter­na­tive facts, if un­in­ten­tion­ally so. 5

Alas, things ain’t gonna get better be­cause of ar­ti­cles like this …

 

Original RIAA: photo of the Monkees used on the MORE OF THE MONKEES album front cover.

FEATURED IMAGE: This photo was used on the MORE OF THE MONKEES album in 1966. It was my choice for use as the header image on this ar­ticle, but I couldn’t find a copy of it that wasn’t faded or a bit blurry. Hence my using the art­work from the PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN & JONES LTD album in its stead.

 

Original RIAA: photo of Elvis Presley in his gold suit from 1957.

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, here are a couple of re­lated ar­ti­cles on woes on and with RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Record Awards (listed chronologically):

• Elvis’ RIAA Gold Record Awards 1958-1975 (While He Was Alive)
• About Those Elvis Gold And Plat­inum Record Awards

And here are other, re­lated ar­ti­cles on woes on and with Wikipedia (listed chronologically):

• 50,000,000 Wikipedia Con­trib­u­tors Can’t Be Wrong (Hah!)
• 50 Neal Umphred Fans Can’t Be Wrong (Wiki Woes 2)
• Can Fifty Mil­lion Elvis Fans Be Wrong? (Yet More Gold Records Vol. 2)
• An­other Mess Of Blues With Wikipedia And Elvis

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Note that a 45 rpm single to reach a mil­lion dol­lars at the whole­sale sale level in 1958 would have re­quired sales of more than 3,000,000 copies.

2   Joseph Mur­rells’ Mil­lion Selling Records From The 1900s To The 1960s (Arco Pub­lishing, 1984).

3   When I de­scribe the music as “so raw and un­re­hearsed that the fin­ished product sounds like sloppy demo tapes rather than the com­pleted work of a suc­cessful artist,” I am not be in­sulting It’s es­sen­tially the sound that Dylan wanted for the music. If it mat­ters, PLANET WAVES is one of my fave Dylan albums.

4   Here are the million-sellers awarded Gold Records by the RIAA by the Bea­tles and the Rolling Stones that have been down­graded to half-million-sellers. For the Fab Four there is I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, I Feel Fine, Eight Days A WeekHelp!, Yes­terday, We Can Work It Out, Nowhere Man, Pa­per­back Writer, Yellow Sub­ma­rine, Penny Lane, All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, and Ballad Of John & Yoko. (Anyone no­tice which Capitol hit is con­spic­uous by its absence?)

For the Eternal Five, there is Sat­is­fac­tion, Ruby Tuesday, Honky Tonk Women, Angie, and Miss You. All these records sold at least 1,000,000 copies, with sev­eral having sold more (I Want To Hold Your Hand passed 4,000,000 in US sales ac­cording to Mur­rells). But as Capitol or EMI or Decca or ABKCO has never gotten around to paying for re-certification, none of these records has a new Plat­inum Record Award, in­di­cating that, ‘of­fi­cially’ again, none of them are rec­og­nized as million-sellers in the US!

5   It is apt that I turn to Wikipedia and para­phrase their entry and use their links for the de­f­i­n­i­tion of an al­ter­na­tive factsDuring a Meet the Press in­ter­view with Chuck Todd on Jan­uary 22, 2017, Coun­selor to the Pres­i­dent Kellyanne Conway was pressed to de­fend White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer’s false state­ment about the at­ten­dance at Donald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion as Pres­i­dent of the United States. Ms Conway stated that, “Sean Spicer, our press sec­re­tary, gave al­ter­na­tive facts.” Todd re­sponded, “Al­ter­na­tive facts are not facts. They’re false­hoods.” (Yes, that’s the nut­shell ver­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Conway and Todd. And it should be noted that Conway first at­tempted to de­flect the con­ver­sa­tion and not an­swer Todd’s question.)

   

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Hi Neal, I’m con­fused about the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards from 1975 - present:

1. “The former $1,000,000 at the whole­sale level (still de­fined as one-third of the list price) plus the title must sell at least 500,000 units.” Do you mean an LP had to sell 432,000 units ($1,000,000 at whole­sale level) AND 500,000 units for a total of 932,000 copies sold to get a Plat­inum award? if it just sells 500,000 units it is NOT awarded a Plat­inum Certification? 

2. Also, about Gold sin­gles that were million-sellers having sold 1,000,000 units and are now listed as 0.5 mil­lion, if Elvis’ record com­pany wanted couldn’t they force the RIAA to rec­og­nize those GOLD Sin­gles as Plat­inum sin­gles having sold 1,000,000 units or more?

Thank you, won­derful article.

“All of Elvis’s ‘old’ Gold Awards were up­dated to ‘new’ Plat­inum Awards in 1992 ex­cept one, “The Wonder Of You.” As it re­ceived its Gold Record in Au­gust 1970 for 1,000,000 sales, I as­sume that RCA could not find the pa­per­work in 1992 to have the record re-audited for re-certification.”

This is not true. Be­sides “The Wonder Of You” the single “My Way” too should have been up­graded from gold to plat­inum. Ac­cording to the R.I.A.A. web­site, it was cer­ti­fied gold on Jan­uary 13, 1978, al­beit the web­site still lists it for 500,000 copies. In 1978, an R.I.A.A. gold record award was still for 1,000,000 copies; hence it too should be up­graded to platinum.

I’d also like to point out that the June / July, 1969 RCA press re­lease an­nouncing that Elvis was ap­pearing at the In­ter­na­tional Hotel in Las Vegas men­tions that the sound­track al­bums to “G.I. Blues” and “Blue Hawaii” were ap­proaching 2 mil­lion and 3 mil­lion al­bums sold re­spec­tively yet to this day, the R.I.A.A. still only has “G.I. Blues” cer­ti­fied at plat­inum while “Blue Hawaii” is cer­ti­fied at 3X Plat­inum. My point is that “G.I. Blues” should be up­graded to 2X Platinum.

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