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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 pâté 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.
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 . . .
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.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, here are a couple of related articles on woes on and with RIAA Gold and Platinum Record Awards (listed chronologically):
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
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 Week, Help!, 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 facts: During 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.)
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)