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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