ELVIS DIED WITH ONLY 28 GOLD RECORDS. That is, he collected only twenty-eight official RIAA Gold Record Awards during his career. He also moved to that mansion on the hill without a single Platinum Record Award on his wall! Neither he nor Colonel Parker nor RCA Victor showed any real enthusiasm for the awards while he was alive. Since his death, the Presley People have done an admirable job in getting RCA and the RIAA to make things right.
Working with the vast personal files of Colonel Parker, the RIAA certified and awarded 110 Gold and Platinum Record Awards to the Presley estate in 1992. Since then, another eighty-eight Awards have been added to the list. 1
There are many reasons for RCA’s lackadaisical attitude towards these awards, an attitude apparently shared by Elvis and his manager.
And looking at the history of the Awards, this perspective was also shared by most of the record industry’s movers and shakers.
When the RIAA launched their “official” Gold Record Awards program in January 1958, they opened their doors to the American record industry. Any company could submit records for independent auditing and receive RIAA certification for a Gold Record Award. They offered the industry access to awards that were standardized and independently authenticated. 2
On April 11. 1956, RCA Victor presented Elvis with his first gold record for sales of 1,000,000 copies of Heartbreak Hotel. The presentation was casual and took place while he was recording his second million-seller, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.
Gold record awards since the ’40s
Individual record companies had been handing out gold records since the ’40s, so there wasn’t a big rush to get records to the RIAA for their blessing. In fact, the industry essentially ignored the RIAA Awards for years. They picked up a little steam in the late ’60s; albums appeared with RIAA Gold Record stickers affixed to their covers. But the Awards didn’t really catch on until the ’70s. 3
At that point, record companies realized that the awards could be used promotionally: a Gold Record was proof that “millions” of people had already bought an album, so why shouldn’t you buy it?
But for the first ten years, most companies just didn’t see the awards as a big deal and didn’t actively participate. For example, in early 1958 RCA Victor could have immediately requested certification for Gold Record Awards for the following Elvis titles:
Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left me
Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel
Love Me Tender / Any Way You Want Me
Too Much / Playing For Keeps
All Shook Up / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin
Teddy Bear / Loving You
Jailhouse Rock / Treat Me Nice
RCA Victor could have also submitted the extended-play album ELVIS, VOLUME 2, the only EP to sell more than a million copies in the US! Elvis’ JAILHOUSE ROCK would follow suit later in ’58. Several LPs probably qualified.
They could have.
But they didn’t.
And we will probably never know why.
On February 25, 1961, Elvis was given a special golden record by RCA Victor for his latest hit, Surrender / Lonely Man, to commemorate the fact that he had sold 76,000,000 singles!
Qualifying a 45 for a Gold Record
A 45 rpm single had to sell 1,000,000 (one million) copies within the United States.
The RIAA Award here is for LPM-1951, the reissue of ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM from 1959. It’s possible that the sales of the original 1957 album (LOC-1035) were not even counted towards this Award. When RCA issued this album in fake stereo (LSP-1951e) for Christmas ’64, it supposedly sold another 300,000 copies in a few weeks!
Qualifying an LP for a Gold Record
A 33⅓ rpm LP album had to sell $1,000,000 (one million dollars) at the manufacturer’s wholesale price. The number of copies than an LP sold was irrelevant to the Award but was slightly more than 700,000 copies for a normal $3.99 LP.
As the price of records rose, the number of records required to reach the million-dollar gold standard declined. In 1974, new standards for an album were established and an album had to meet two criteria:
1. An album must sell $1,000,000 (one million dollars) at the wholesale level.
2. An album must sell at least 500,000 (five-hundred-thousand) units.
By this time a “unit” consisted of either an LP or tape. While reel-to-reels and 8-tracks were still manufactured, they sold little and had a minuscule impact on sales tallies. But the cassette tape was catching on fast with music-lovers across the country.
On March 1, 1970, during his triumphant appearance at the Houston Astrodome, Elvis was presented with Gold Records for three singles (In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, and Don’t Cry Daddy) and two albums (FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS and FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS). He would not have a year filled with gold like this again until 1977.
Elvis’ RIAA Gold Records 1958-1975
Here are the records certified Gold by the RIAA prior to Elvis’ death in 1977. As noted, there were only twenty-eight, and this teeny-weeny figure had tongues a-wagging for years after Presley’s passing about how RCA must have lied about his sales through the years to account for so low a tally. This would be put to rest in 1992 with the aforementioned certification of 110 Gold and Platinum Record Awards.
The titles below are listed chronologically as they received their certification. Within each year, titles are listed chronologically based on their original release date. Album titles are in bold print.
47-7280 Hard Headed Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why
LPM/LSP-1707 Elvis’ Golden Records
LPM/LSP-2426 Blue Hawaii
47-7968 Can’t Help Falling In Love / Rock-A-Hula Baby
LPM/LSP-1951 Elvis’ Christmas Album
LPM/LSP-2256 G.I. Blues
LPM/LSP-2621 Girls! Girls! Girls!
LPM/LSP-1254 Elvis Presley
LPM/LSP-2075 Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2
LPM/LSP-2765 Elvis’ Golden Records, Volume 3
LPM/LSP-1515 Loving You
LPM/LSP-3758 How Great Thou Art
LPM/LSP-2328 His Hand In Mine
LPM-4088 Elvis (NBC-TV Special)
47-9741 In The Ghetto / Any Day Now
47-9764 Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think Of Me
LSP-6020 From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis
Although In The Ghetto was the 42nd Elvis Presley single to sell a million copies, it was only his third RIAA Gold Record Award! It wasn’t until Presley had been dead almost fifteen years that such hits as Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, It’s Now Or Never, Return To Sender, and Crying In The Chapel would finally be certified by the RIAA! Think on the craziness of that.
LSP-4155 From Elvis In Memphis
47-9768 Don’t Cry, Daddy / Rubberneckin’
47-9835 The Wonder Of You / Mama Liked The Roses
LSP-4362 On Stage – February 1970
74-0769 Burning Love / It’s A Matter Of Time
LSP-4776 Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden
LPM-6401 Worldwide 50 Gold Award Hits, Volume 1
LSP-4555 That’s The Way It Is
VPSX-6089 Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite
CPL1-0341 A Legendary Performer, Volume 1
Exactly why RCA Victor, Colonel Parker, and Presley balked at building an impressive catalog of RIAA Awards through the years will probably never be known. Due to the auditing and certifications of 1992, we know that had RCA been diligent about the Awards (and about maintaining proper records about their records), Elvis might have left this mortal coil with 50-60 official Gold Records on his walls.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have to stress that the RIAA Awards did not carry a lot of weight in the industry until the mid-’70s, by which time Elvis wasn’t racking up the sales figures that he had previously. It’s possible that Elvis was prouder of getting a gold record from Argentina or South Africa, where people didn’t have the money to buy large quantities of records than he did from getting a redundant RIAA Award for a title that he already had an RCA award hanging on his wall. We’ll never know.
FEATURED IMAGE: Here is Elvis with former producer Steve Sholes showing off the RIAA Gold Record Award for the 1972 album ELVIS AS RECORDED AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. Presley looks trim and fit, if over-tanned. Of course, there are those eyes . . .
1 The stories of RCA’s “misplacing” thousands of pieces of paper documenting Presley’s sales through the year have been around since Elvis was alive! Apparently, most of the paperwork from the years following his death (1977-1979) are missing—years in which hundreds of millions of Elvis records were selling around the world! 4
2 Record companies could join the RIAA and pay membership dues and separate fees for the auditing and the actual physical Awards. Non-member record companies also had access to the Awards, but with significantly higher auditing fees.
3 These awards presented by a record company to one of its artists are now called in-house awards and for many records, these are all we have to go on.
4 RCA also “misfiled” all of the master tapes to Presley’s recordings of the 1950s. But that’s another story . . .