About RIAA Gold & Platinum Record Awards

MOST OF THE INFORMATION about gold and plat­inum record awards of the Six­ties on the In­ternet is crap! That is, most of the “in­for­ma­tion” re­garding RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Records awarded to al­bums from the ’60s and early ’70s is fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect. This ap­plies to al­most every web­site: the few that aren’t in­cor­rect are often mis­leading, and this in­cludes the RI­AA’s own web­site!

This ar­ticle will as­sist most readers in un­der­standing RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Record Awards for records is­sued prior to 1975. 1

This ar­ticle ad­dresses the basic cri­teria that were used by the RIAA for awarding Gold and Plat­inum Records to sin­gles and al­bums. The focus is on the awards from 1958 through 1974, during which the cri­teria re­mained stable.

 

In the 1960s, RIAA Gold Records for al­bums were based solely on dollar amounts—the number of records sold was ir­rel­e­vant!

 

A lot of changes have oc­curred since, es­pe­cially for al­bums; this ar­ticle notes a few but not in the de­tail it de­serves.

There have been so many changes in the de­f­i­n­i­tion of a “unit” when counting multi-record sets that it would re­quire an ar­ticle of its own! 2

Most web­sites screw up the in­for­ma­tion when men­tioning Gold Record Awards for al­bums. Al­most without ex­cep­tion, they apply post-1974 stan­dards to pre-1974 Awards and al­most al­ways men­tion num­bers of copies sold—usually in­cor­rect or un­ver­i­fied num­bers.

 

RIAA_Miller

On Feb­ruary 10, 1942, RCA Victor pre­sented band­leader Glenn Miller with the first known gold record award for sales of 1,000,000 copies of Chat­tanooga Choo Choo in 1941. The record on the plaque is a ten-inch 78 rpm disc. The pre­senter of the award is W. Wal­lace Early of RCA Victor with an­nouncer Paul Dou­glas. Need­less to say, this was also the first ‘in-house award.’

The nutshell version of this article

Here is the en­tire 5,400 words of this ar­ticle summed up in four state­ments of fewer than one hun­dred words:

1. In the ’60s, the RIAA Gold Record Award for al­bums was based solely on dollar amounts.

Pe­riod.

2. The number of copies sold was ir­rel­e­vant.

Pe­riod.

3. RIAA Plat­inum Records don’t have to sell a mil­lion copies, but a mil­lion units—which doesn’t matter be­cause there were no RIAA Plat­inum Records in the ’60s.

Pe­riod.

Any time you read a re­mark that ref­er­ences RIAA Gold or Plat­inum Record Awards made prior to 1974 that states num­bers of copies sold, you’re prob­ably reading a source that don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’ ’bout RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Record Awards.

Pe­riod.

Now on to the nitty-gritty …

 

RIAA_BeatlesMeet

On Jan­uary 20, 1964, Capitol Records re­leased MEET THE BEATLES, and it sold 750,000 copies in its first week of re­lease, for which it was awarded an RIAA Gold Record. It was just get­ting started: by the end of March, sales were ap­proaching 3,000,000 copies. By the end of 1964, sales were ap­proaching 4,000,000 copies, and by the end of 1966, sales were ap­proaching 5,000,000 copies! And it kept on selling!

The 500,000 copies statement

No record was ever cer­ti­fied for an RIAA Gold Record Award based on “the sale of more than 500,000 copies” in the ’60s!

Pe­riod.

See “About the 500,000 copies state­ment above” below.

 

RIAA_Elvis1964

This photo was taken in Oc­tober 1963 on the set of the Kissin’ Cousins movie. It was part of a news re­lease that ap­peared on Jan­uary 4, 1964, with a cap­tion that read (and I am para­phrasing), “Steve Sholes and Elvis Presley show off new gold record for the mil­lion dollar sales of ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM. The LP was first is­sued in 1959 and has sold over the 100,000 mark each year since.” Like all ar­ti­cles from these years, the dollar amount is men­tioned, as that was the basis of the award. This also notes the sales of 100,000 per year, a big number in the pre-Beatles years.

The RIAA according to the RIAA

Everyone who buys sells, col­lects, or records knows the ini­tialism “RIAA.” Many do not know ex­actly what the RIAA does. Here is the in­tro­duc­tion to the RIAA that greets one on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site:

“The Recording In­dustry As­so­ci­a­tion of America® (RIAA) is the trade or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports and pro­motes the cre­ative and fi­nan­cial vi­tality of the major music com­pa­nies. Its mem­bers com­prise the most vi­brant record in­dustry in the world, in­vesting in great artists to help them reach their po­ten­tial and con­nect to their fans.

In sup­port of this mis­sion, the RIAA works to pro­tect the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and First Amend­ment rights of artists and music la­bels; con­duct con­sumer, in­dustry and tech­nical re­search; and mon­itor and re­view state and fed­eral laws, reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies.

RIAA also cer­ti­fies Gold®, Plat­inum®, Multi-Platinum™, Di­a­mond and Los Pre­mios De Oro y Platino™ sales and streaming awards. Orig­i­nally con­ceived to honor artists and track sound recording sales, Gold & Plat­inum Awards have come to stand as a bench­mark of suc­cess for any artist.”

Be­lieve it or not, the RIAA web­site does not pro­vide any mean­ingful back­ground or his­tory on the changing cri­teria of the var­ious awards!

 

RIAA_Aretha

Aretha Franklin re­ceiving a pair of RIAA Gold Record Awards from At­lantic Records partner and pro­ducer Jerry Wexler. This photo was prob­ably taken in June 1967 and the awards are for Re­spect and I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, the first of her four­teen awards for sin­gles.

A little more of the story

The RIAA formed in 1952 as a united front rep­re­senting the in­ter­ests of the larger record com­pa­nies. These com­pa­nies are often re­ferred to as “the major com­pa­nies,” or simply “the ma­jors” (and yes, it’s a base­ball analogy). The work of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cluded over­sight of copy­right is­sues, working with var­ious unions, and car­rying on re­search “re­lating to the record in­dustry and gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions.” 3

The RIAA also es­tab­lished uni­versal stan­dards for such tech­nical as­pects of recording as the equal­iza­tion curve and how stereo­phonic record grooves should be cut. These were very im­por­tant is­sues to the in­dustry at the time.

On a side note, Wikipedia states that the RIAA spends be­tween $2,000,000 and $6,000,000 a year lob­bying mem­bers of the United States Con­gress. 4

 

RIAA_Miller_award

This is the award given Glenn Miller by RCA Victor. It uses a gold-plated 78 rpm record from Vic­tor’s sub­sidiary im­print Blue­bird. Note that the basic de­sign of this in-house award served as the blue­print for the RI­AA’s Gold Record Award of 1958.

In-house awards are not fake awards

Record com­pa­nies were giving awards to artists for ex­cep­tional achieve­ments for years. The first known gold record award was given to Glenn Miller in 1942 by RCA Victor for sales of 1,000,000 copies of Chat­tanooga Choo Choo during the pre­vious year. 5

Other com­pa­nies fol­lowed suit and the gold record be­came fairly common in the in­dustry. The sales that were being ac­knowl­edged were not con­fined to the US: a million-selling record is big deal, wher­ever the sales are made. A record that sells 500,000 copies in the US and 500,000 copies in Eu­rope is still a million-seller!

They are now called in-house awards and for many records these are the only sales in­di­ca­tors that we have to go on. 6

Sup­pos­edly, record com­pa­nies gave gold records for au­thentic million-sellers and for a host of other things. Since no one was checking, any com­pany could give any artist any award for any reason. Most of the hubbub about phony awards being handed out willy-nilly is dif­fi­cult to verify.

Today, in-house awards from major record com­pa­nies are gen­er­ally rec­og­nized as le­git­i­mate sales barometers—especially those from the pre-RIAA era.

Hy­po­thet­i­cally, an Amer­ican record com­pany can give an Amer­ican recording artist a gold record for a record that was a com­mer­cial failure in the US but sold a mil­lion copies in Eu­rope. De­spite the record failing to sell any­thing in the US, it is nonethe­less a le­git­i­mate gold record award cel­e­brating a gen­uine achieve­ment. And the record com­pany is not obliged to state on the award where the records were sold.

 

RIAA_BeatlesHello

The Bea­tles re­ceived this Gold Record Award on De­cember 15, 1967, for Hello Goodbye within weeks of its being re­leased. The plaque reads, “Pre­sented to The Bea­tles to com­mem­o­rate the sales of more than one mil­lion copies of the Capitol Records pop single record ‘Hello Goodbye.’ ”

Gold and platinum awards for singles

For some reason, the RIAA took an in­terest in all of this and in­sti­tuted their own Gold Record Awards pro­gram that began in Feb­ruary 1958. Since then, the RIAA awards are con­sid­ered the only “of­fi­cial” awards. To qualify for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, record com­pa­nies had to re­quest cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and pay for an in­de­pen­dent audit of their books to verify that a given record had in fact sold the req­ui­site amounts.

As the awards had little value at first, many com­pa­nies did not re­quest cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for their artists. (There are many rea­sons why a record com­pany might not want to show anyone their books.)

When the RIAA began is­suing Gold Record Awards in 1958, sin­gles were the medium that mat­tered but al­bums were rec­og­nized. The cri­teria for sin­gles and al­bums were very dif­ferent in the be­gin­ning: the RIAA counted records sold for sin­gles, but counted dollar amounts for al­bums as few LPs sold large quan­ti­ties of records.

1958-1988

Gold Record Award for sin­gles

A single had to sell 1,000,000 (one mil­lion) copies within the United States. The RIAA counted all sales of 78s and 45s to re­tailers and whole­salers, in­cluding jukebox ven­dors. They also counted free copies given to re­tailers for placing large or­ders, as they were more a dis­count to en­courage large or­ders than ac­tu­ally free­bies. 7

They did not count free copies given for pro­mo­tional pur­poses, no­tably those shipped to radio sta­tion for air-play. These never counted for more than a few thou­sand per title.

1976-1988

Plat­inum Record Awards for sin­gles

Be­gin­ning in 1976, the RIAA awarded a Plat­inum Record to a single that sold 2,000,000 (two mil­lion) copies.

1989-2016

Gold Record Awards for sin­gles

With the in­creasing lack of in­terest in sin­gles as a medium, sales plum­meted over the years. This was not good for the in­dustry: there were no more gold sin­gles, even for records that topped the charts!

In 1989, the RIAA low­ered the cri­teria for sin­gles: they only needed to sell only 500,000 (five-hundred-thousand) copies for a Gold Record Award.

1989-2016

Multi-Platinum Record Awards for sin­gles

Be­gin­ning in 1989, the RIAA awarded a Plat­inum Record to a single that only sold 1,000,000 (one mil­lion) copies.

 

RIAA_CreamGears750

This is the RIAA Gold Record Award pre­sented to Cream for their 1967 album DISRAELI GEARS. The plaque reads, “Pre­sented to Cream to com­mem­o­rate the sales of more than one mil­lion dol­lars worth of Atco Records.” 8

Gold awards for albums

As stated above, ini­tially the RIAA only counted dollar amounts for al­bums. The cri­teria were con­stant for sev­en­teen years be­fore being changed out of ne­ces­sity. Other changes have oc­curred since then.

1958-1974

Gold Record Awards for al­bums

Al­bums had to sell $1,000,000 (one mil­lion dol­lars) at the man­u­fac­tur­er’s whole­sale price to qualify. The whole­sale price was a por­tion of the man­u­fac­tur­er’s sug­gested re­tail price. As these varied from com­pany to com­pany, to sim­plify the process the RIAA set whole­sale price as one-third (33⅓%) of the re­tail price.

Pe­riod.

The number of copies sold was ir­rel­e­vant.

Pe­riod.

Here is the most ex­treme (hy­po­thet­ical) ex­ample of the ir­rel­e­vancy of copies sold as a qual­i­fying factor in RIAA Gold Record Awards in the ’60s. Sup­pose a wealthy col­lector made a deal with a record com­pany to tape an once-in-a-lifetime per­for­mance of a string quartet made up of mu­si­cians who never make records.

From this tape, one record was pressed after which the tape and all the parts were de­stroyed. The com­pany as­signed a man­u­fac­tur­er’s sug­gested list price of $3,330,000 to that unique record and the col­lector paid the full re­tail price.

All of the cri­teria re­quired by the RIAA would be have been met and four mu­si­cians would be awarded an RIAA Gold Record “to com­mem­o­rate the sales of more than one mil­lion dol­lars worth of records” based on the sales of … one record.

1974-2016

Gold Record Awards for al­bums

As pro­duc­tion costs and me­chan­ical fees rose through the years (no­tably roy­al­ties to the artist), so did the whole­sale and re­tail price of al­bums. As the price rose, the number of records re­quired to reach the RIAA gold stan­dard de­clined.

In Jan­uary 1974, Bob Dy­lan’s PLANET WAVES “shipped gold” and re­ceived an im­me­diate Gold Record with fewer than 500,000 or­ders! This caused some con­ster­na­tion in the in­dustry and the RIAA set about tweaking the rules. Be­gin­ning some time in 1974, an album had to meet two cri­teria:

•  An album must sell $1,000,000 (one mil­lion dol­lars) at the whole­sale level.

  An album must sell at least 500,000 (five-hundred-thousand) units.

In 1958, no one dis­cussed “units.” First, al­bums were LPs. The few tapes that sold were reel-to-reels and they mostly sold to clas­sical music buffs. The im­pact of tapes on RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was ef­fec­tively non-existent.

Second, nei­ther al­bums nor units had any­thing to do with RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion: the award was based on a mon­e­tary achieve­ment.

By 1968, a unit con­sisted of ei­ther an LP or a tape. While reel-to-reels and 8-tracks were still man­u­fac­tured, they sold little and had mi­nus­cule im­pact on sales tal­lies. Most tape sales were of cas­settes.

 

RIAA_StillsFar

The times they are a-changin’: this is the RIAA Gold Record pre­sented to Stephen Stills on Sep­tember 19, 1974, for the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album SO FAR. The plaque has switched from com­mem­o­rating one mil­lion dol­lars worth of sales to “the sale of more than 500,000 copies.”

About the 500,000 copies statement

In the sub-section ti­tled “The 500,000 copies state­ment” at the top of this post, I wrote that no record was ever cer­ti­fied for an RIAA Gold Record Award based on the sale of more than 500,000 copies in the ’60s. And that is true and this is im­por­tant: 1974 was the first year in which the RIAA awarded Gold Records to an album based on unit sales (“the sale of more than 500,000 copies”), not just dollar sales.

Yeah yeah yeah, a few al­bums re­ceived a Gold Record for sales of fewer than a half-million, but they were double-albums with a higher list price and the award was based on the dollar amount, not the unit sales.

In fact, thinking about it just makes me wonder why they changed the wording on the plaque. Had they kept it the way things were (“the sales of more than one mil­lion dol­lars worth of [What­ever] Records”), no one would have no­ticed!

 

RIAA_ElvisMoody_plat

In the wake of Elvis Pres­ley’s un­ex­pected death on Au­gust 16, 1977, sales of his then cur­rent album MOODY BLUE sky­rock­eted! On Sep­tember 12, 1977, the RIAA cer­ti­fied it having sold 1,000,000 copies. This RIAA Plat­inum Record Award was given to Mark Dou­glas, ap­par­ently an em­ployee of RCA Records at the time. 

Platinum awards for albums

Not one single or album re­ceived a Plat­inum Record Award in the ’60s! Why? Be­cause there was no such award until the ’70s!

During the early ’70s, some record com­pa­nies gave their artists plat­inum records as awards for sales be­yond the gold level. These were un­of­fi­cial, in-house awards.

In 1976, the RIAA in­tro­duced the of­fi­cial Plat­inum Record Award. They used a sim­ilar set of cri­teria to the Gold Award:

 An album must sell $2,000,000 (two mil­lion dol­lars) at the whole­sale level.

  An album must sell at least 1,000,000 (one mil­lion) units.

Multi-platinum awards

In 1985, the RIAA in­tro­duced the Multi-Platinum Award for sales levels in mul­ti­ples of one mil­lion. Whole­sale dollar amounts were also a part of the award and were counted in mul­ti­ples of $2,000,000 (two mil­lion dol­lars).

 For a 2xMulti-Platinum Record Award, an album must sell $4,000,000 (four mil­lion dol­lars) at the whole­sale level and move at least 2,000,000 (two mil­lion) units.

 For a 3xMulti-Platinum Record Award, an album must sell $6,000,000 (six mil­lion dol­lars) at the whole­sale level and move at least 3,000,000 (three mil­lion) units.

Etcetera …

 

dbl_Belafonte_CarnegieHall

The first double-album to re­ceive an RIAA Gold Record Award was BELAFONTE AT CARNEGIE HALL. Re­leased in Oc­tober 1959, it reached #3 on Bill­board’s Top LPs survey and was nom­i­nated for a 1960 Grammy Award as Album of the Year. On Oc­tober 16, 1961, it was awarded an RIAA Gold Record com­mem­o­rating one mil­lion dol­lars worth of sales for ap­prox­i­mately 300,000 album sold.

Certifying multiple-record albums

Ex­actly how the RIAA counts multiple-record sets has varied over the years. A single album is al­ways one “unit”; a double-album has been one or two units. At one time, whether or not a double-album counts as two units or one was based on the length of the music!

This is com­pletely con­trary to the orig­inal in­ten­tion of the Gold Record stan­dards for LPs. Plus, it was just plain id­i­otic in ac­tion. Con­siders these pos­si­bil­i­ties:

 If a two-record set had a man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price of $9.98 but was only 59:59 min­utes long, it counted as a single unit to­wards cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. If it was 60:00, it counted as two units!

 But if a two-record set was just one second longer (60:00), it counted as two units—even if it had a lower man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price (such as $7.98)!

Con­fused? Just re­member that prior to 1975, an album need only sell $1,000,000 whole­sale; the more ex­pen­sive an al­bum’s re­tail price, the fewer copies it needed to sell to reach that level.

 

RIAA_1948ad

While this 1948 ad­ver­tise­ment boasts of forty-five min­utes of playing time, ac­tual pop al­bums tended to clock in at around thirty min­utes. This had as much to do with money mat­ters (like roy­al­ties) as it did with tech­nical mat­ters (like fi­delity).

The wholesale cost of records

Now a little his­tory: on June 28, 1948, Co­lumbia Records in­tro­duced the 33⅓ rpm long-playing records, es­tab­lishing a new in­dustry stan­dard that would hold for al­most forty years.

The first twelve-inch 33⅓ rpm album fea­tured vi­o­linist Nathan Mil­stein per­forming the Mendelssohn Con­certo In E Minor with Bruno Walter con­ducting the Phil­har­monic Sym­phony Or­chestra of New York. It was is­sued as Co­lumbia ML-4001 with a “pre­mium price” of $4.85.

Re­leased at the same time was the first ten-inch 33⅓ album fea­tured Walter con­ducting Beethoven’s Sym­phony No. 8. It was is­sued as Co­lumbia ML-2001 and was priced at $3.85. 9

As other com­pa­nies quickly en­tered the LP market, re­tail prices varied from com­pany to com­pany and from genre to genre.

 

RIAA_Tribune_detail

RCA drops the price of albums!

In early 1954, Co­lumbia Records re­duced the man­u­fac­tur­er’s re­tail price of its clas­sical line by 30%. The Feb­ruary 13, 1954, issue of Bill­board fea­tured an ar­ticle ti­tled “Victor Fires Salvo / Slashes On LP’s Heightens Gen­eral Price Skir­mish” about RCA Vic­tor’s re­sponse. The com­pany cut the price of most of its 12-inch clas­sical LPs from $5.72 to $3.99! They also re­duced the price of their 10-inch LPs from $$4.60 to $3.25.

By the end of the year, they re­duced the list price for all of their LPs: twelve-inch LPs were cut to $3.99, whereas they had been $4.19 to $5.95. They also low­ered the cost of 45 rpm sin­gles to 89¢ and EPs to $1.49. The prices took ef­fect on the first day of 1955.

RCA pres­i­dent Frank Folsom said he was con­vinced the record in­dustry was on the threshold of its greatest pe­riod of ex­pan­sion:

“In­tro­duc­tion of of the 33 and 45 rpm records in 1949 greatly in­creased the number of record players. Today there are more than 20,000,000 phono­graphs in use com­pared with only 10,000,000 at the end of World War II.”

He then pre­dicted that Amer­i­cans would pur­chase an­other 20,000,000 players in the next five years. 10

In 1958, stereo LPs were avail­able, and most com­pa­nies charged one dollar more for them than for their mono coun­ter­parts ($4.99 vs. $3.99).

In 1968, mono al­bums were dis­con­tinued as a vi­able com­mer­cial format; the av­erage price for an LP in the US was now $4.99.

 

RIAA_Supremes_mono

This mono copy of THE SUPREMES SING COUNTRY WESTERN & POP (Mo­town MT-625) from 1965 has a sticker with only the man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price of $3.98, in­di­cating that the store did not dis­count records.

How many mono sales to go gold?

From 1955 through 1967, the av­erage re­tail price for a mono LP was ap­prox­i­mately $3.99. Using the RIAA’s one-third rule, then the whole­sale price was $1.33. An album would need to sell slightly more than 750,000 mono copies to reach the million-dollar mark.

Since the ma­jority of pop LPs sold prior to 1964 were mono, we may as­sume that any pop LP that was awarded an RIAA Gold Record prior to 1964 sold ap­prox­i­mately 700,000 copies.

There weren’t many: among the artists en­joying the folk music boom, the Kingston Trio were the most suc­cessful with six gold LPs, while Peter, Paul & Mary had two. Elvis had eight gold LPs and Ray Charles had one. No other rock & roll artist had a Gold Record for an album—the Beach Boys would not re­ceive one until 1965.

That all changed in 1964 with the Bea­tles and the British In­va­sion.

 

RIAA_BeatlesPepper_stereo

Capitol is­sued SGT. PEPPER as a deluxe album with a gate­fold jacket, al­lowing them to add a dollar onto the man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price. As the stereo copy above il­lus­trates, the store’s price sticker dis­plays the man­u­fac­tur­er’s sug­gested price of $5.79, and the store’s dis­counted price of $3.75. This pre­mium on the price would lower the number of copies re­quired to qualify for an RIAA Gold Record Award (not that PEPPER needed it.)

How many stereo sales to go gold?

From 1958 through 1967, the av­erage re­tail price for a stereo LP was ap­prox­i­mately $4.99. Using the RIAA’s one-third rule, then the whole­sale price was $1.66. An album would need to sell slightly more than 600,000 stereo copies to reach the million-dollar mark.

By the middle of the decade, rock and pop LPs were selling a mix­ture of mono and stereo copies. During this time, we can as­sume that any LP that was awarded an RIAA Gold Record sold ap­prox­i­mately 650,000 copies.

With the elim­i­na­tion of the prac­tice of re­leasing new al­bums in both mono and stereo in 1968, most new LP sales were stereo with a list price of $4.99. We can as­sume that any LP that was awarded an RIAA Gold Record from 1968 into the early ’70s sold ap­prox­i­mately 600,000 copies.

Then the prices started going up reg­u­larly.

 

RIAA_Supremes900

The year 1964 is best re­mem­bered as the year of Beat­le­mania in the US, but it was also the year of as­cen­dency of Tamla/Motown to artistic and com­mer­cial suc­cess. And no one better de­fined the Mo­town sound and look that the Supremes. Be­tween 1964 and 1969, they had sev­en­teen Top 10 hits on Bill­board, eleven of which reached #1. But be­cause Berry Gordy re­fused to allow anyone to see the real num­bers in his com­pany ledgers, the Supremes did not re­ceive a single RIAA Gold Record Award in the ’60s. (This photo al­lows me to make my point about placing too much em­phasis on Gold Records plus my habit of tag­ging a photo of beau­tiful women on the end of my posts.)

We may never know the truth

The ac­tual sales fig­ures of any album that re­ceived an RIAA Gold Record Award prior to 1975 cannot be pre­cisely known. Un­less the album has been re-certified and up­graded to a new RIAA Award since 1975, its sales fig­ures can only be es­ti­mated.

These ex­am­ples are random and are based on er­rors that I found while re­searching other ar­ti­cles. They’ll have to suf­fice be­cause I’m not looking for others …

 

dbl_Donovan_sealed_1200

The ex­tra­or­di­nary photo of Donovan by Karl Ferris stands on its own as a work of pho­tog­ra­pher’s art. Sup­pos­edly, Epic dod not sup­port this ex­pen­sive, deluxe boxed edi­tion of the album, but Donovan insisted—and pos­sibly even paid for it.

Donovan: A Gift From A Flower To A Garden

Dono­van’s 1967 album A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN was pop and rock’s first truly “deluxe” album: aside from being a boxed set, it fea­tured an ex­tra­or­di­nary photo on the front cover that re­quired a six-color sep­a­ra­tion rather than the usual four-color process. The box also in­cluded a folio with twelve sheets of lyrics and draw­ings. This was one of the most ex­pen­sive al­bums ever man­u­fac­tured at the time.

This truly deluxe package car­ried a deluxe man­u­fac­tur­er’s re­tail price that dra­mat­i­cally low­ered the number of copies old re­quired to meet the million-dollar mark for an RIAA Gold Record Award.

In its entry on A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN, Wikipedia wrote, “The album earned a Gold Record award for half-a-million sales during 1970.” This is not cor­rect: with its higher re­tail price, the boxed set re­quired sales of ap­prox­i­mately 300,000 boxes to qualify for a Gold Record. 11

As Epic has never re­quested the RIAA to re-certify the album for an up­grade to the newer Gold Record Award, there is no way to know if AGFAFTAG has even sold a half-million copies in the forty-nine years since its re­lease!

 

dbl_CreamWheels_RIAAsticker

In the mid to late ’60s, some record com­pa­nies began af­fixing shiny gold stickers to the front covers of jacket an­nouncing that the album had re­ceived an RIAA Gold Record Award. It was the first at­tempt by the in­dustry to ex­ploit the award as a po­ten­tial sales mo­ti­vator. While most of the stickers found their way into the upper left corner, but I have seem them all over the cover!

Cream: Wheels Of Fire

Read the in­scrip­tion on the second image above: “Pre­sented to Cream to com­mem­o­rate the sales of more than one mil­lion dol­lars worth of Atco Records.” This Gold Record was pre­sented on July 22, 1968. At that time, $1,000,000 rep­re­sented sales of ap­prox­i­mately 300,000-400,000 copies of a two-record set, de­pending on the man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price.

Now Wikipedia states that WOF “reached #3 in the United Kingdom and #1 in the United States, be­coming the first platinum-selling double album.”

This is a con­fusing state­ment, as the word plat­inum in that con­text was mean­ing­less in the ’60s. And the word plat­inum in the con­text of double-albums has had sev­eral mean­ings over the past forty years.

I as­sume that what the Wiki ed­i­tors meant was that WHEELS OF FIRE “reached #3 in the United Kingdom and #1 in the United States, be­coming the first double-album to sell a mil­lion copies through com­bined global sales.”

Ex­cept that there is no ev­i­dence that WOF has ac­tu­ally sold a mil­lion copies; Joseph Mur­rells didn’t in­clude it in his book, and there is no doc­u­men­ta­tion on the In­ternet that level of sales has ever been reached. 12

Maybe what the Wikipedians meant was that WOF “reached #3 in the United Kingdom and #1 in the United States, be­coming the first double-album to sell a half-million copies through com­bined global sales and can, there­fore, be counted as a plat­inum if we count each of the records in the album as one sep­a­rate unit.” Yes, that sounds about right.

Go look up WHEELS OF FIRE on the Gold & Plat­inum search on the RIAA site: they got the July 22, 1968, for the al­bum’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for a Gold Record Award cor­rect. But under the sec­tion ti­tled Cer­ti­fied Unit, the RIAA lists “0.5 mil­lion.” And as we know by the award above, it was for not for 500,000 sales, but for $1,000,000. Nothing else.

There is no way to know what the ac­tual sales of the album were at the time of the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion without knowing the man­u­fac­tur­er’s list price for it, which I have not been able to find. But there are two rea­son­able choices: $9.98, the highest price as­so­ci­ated with double-albums (and twice that of a stan­dard single-record album), or a middle price such as $7.98.

 If the album listed for $9.98, then it would have had to sell 304,000 copies to qualify for an RIAA Gold Record Award in 1968.

 If the album listed for $7.98, then it would have had to sell 417,000 copies to qualify for an RIAA Gold Record Award in 1968.

As of this date, the Warner Music Group/At­lantic Records Group (or who­ever owns whomever) has not sought cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for a Plat­inum Record Award, im­plying the req­ui­site 500,000 copies in do­mestic sales has not been reached.

 

Beatles_White_changed

Here is an­other copy of the Bea­tles’ WHITE ALBUM that was so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally (over) loved by its owner that it looks as if it had been abused at the hands of a vinyl sadist. Be­lieve it or not, there is an artist who col­lects nothing but used and tat­tered copies of THE BEATLES as an art project! Refer to “Ruther­ford Chang And The Bea­tles (We Buy White Al­bums).”

The Beatles: “The White Album”

As suc­cessful as WHEELS OF FIRE was, it wasn’t even close to being the biggest selling double-album of the ’60s. That honor be­longs to THE BEATLES, af­fec­tion­ately and uni­ver­sally known as “The White Album.” It re­put­edly sold more than 2,000,000 copies (not “units”) in its first twelve months of re­lease!

For this as­tounding ac­com­plish­ment, it re­ceived the same RIAA Gold Record Award as every other album that sold $1,000,000 at the whole­sale level. Nothing more.

That is, it re­ceived the same award as WHEELS OF FIRE, which it out­sold by a factor of five-to-one by the end of 1969 (and I am being con­ser­v­a­tive). 13

De­spite this un­prece­dented achieve­ment, Capitol didn’t re­quest the Plat­inum Award cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for this album until 1991!

 

In keeping with tra­di­tion, the photo se­lected by Colonel Parker and/or RCA for The Wonder Of You pic­ture sleeve was not par­tic­u­larly flat­tering to Elvis.

Elvis: The Wonder Of You

In May 1970, Elvis re­ceived a Gold Record Award for sales of 1,000,000 copies of The Wonder Of You. Yet when RCA up­graded Pres­ley’s cat­alog in 1992, they couldn’t find the sales re­ceipts that showed that orig­inal mil­lion, so they couldn’t up­grade this single from its orig­inal Gold Record status of 1,000,000 copies sold to the new Plat­inum Record status of 1,000,000 copies sold.

If you go to the RIAA web­site and type “the wonder of you” into the Gold & Plat­inum search, it re­turns, “Un­for­tu­nately that search pro­duced no cer­ti­fi­ca­tions.”

If you scroll through the Elvis list­ings, you will find The Wonder Of You in the 1970 list­ings! There it in­forms you that the record has only been cer­ti­fied Gold in 1970 and then for 500,000 sales—despite the fact that no record was ever given a Gold Record for sales of 500,000 copies be­fore 1974!

Right, if we can’t trust the bloody RIAA to get it right on their own web­site, why should we ex­pect writers to get it right in their ar­ti­cles, right?!!?

 

RIAA_Turner_mono

This mono copy of THE IKE & TINA TURNER SHOW VOLUME 2 (Loma 5904) has a sticker that in­di­cates a list price of $3.79 fol­lowed by the store’s dis­counted price of $2.97. Re­gard­less of the price that stores sold the records, the RIAA based its cer­ti­fi­ca­tion on a per­centage of the list price!

Conclusion and advice

Con­sider this: how does anyone have a sane con­ver­sa­tion about record sales in the ’60s based on RIAA Awards when not a single Mo­town record re­ceived a Gold Record Award in the ’60s. Using the RIAA Awards as a de­ciding factor, one could easily and rea­son­ably con­clude that Mo­town was not a par­tic­u­larly suc­cessful record company—just about the stu­pidest con­clu­sion one could ever reach!

So, writers and “con­tent providers” that clog up the In­ternet with ob­ser­va­tions based on ig­no­rance, here’s my ad­vice (the sim­plest one first): Stop men­tioning sales fig­ures when you men­tion RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Awards in your ar­ti­cles.

This ad­vice is more dif­fi­cult (but more re­warding): Stop men­tioning RIAA Gold and Plat­inum Awards as mean­ingful sales in­di­ca­tors in your ar­ti­cles without un­der­standing the Awards and taking into con­sid­er­a­tion the cir­cum­stances sur­rounding each one.

 

Elvis_Stung_78

In 1958, RCA Victor re­leased Elvis’ latest single I Got Stung / One Night as both a 45 (47-7410) and a 78 (20-7410). The 45 sold a mil­lion, while sales of the 78 were so teen­sy­weensy that RCA dis­con­tinued man­u­fac­turing them! Con­se­quently, a NM copy of the 45 will cost you $20-30, while a NM copy of the 78 will set you back $500-1,000.

About all those gold records on the Internet

The are lots of gold record awards on the In­ternet, many of them for sale. If you’re in the market for one as a buyer, know these three things:

1. Most of them are not le­git­i­mate RIAA or even in-house awards; they are wall dec­o­ra­tions.

2. There have been many styles of the ac­tual phys­ical RIAA Awards, in­cluding the wooden frames, the backing in the frames, and even the RIAA symbol on the plaque. Many records that were orig­i­nally awarded in one format can be found as le­git­i­mate awards in later for­mats. Know which format is which if you’re spending big bucks.

3. There are fake/counterfeit RIAA Gold Record Awards. Some of the im­ages on this page may be of those fake awards.

Re­member, that in 49 BC, as Caesar led his army across the Ru­bicon River, he fa­mously said “Alea iacta est, caveat emptor.” Roughly trans­lated, that means “The die is cast, so let the buyer be­ware.” If Julius said it, we should all give it good heed in­deed.

 

FEATURED IMAGE: I was no­ti­fied by reader Bil­lion Dollar Baby via a com­ment in the orig­inal posting of this ar­ticle that some of the im­ages that I used above were “bootleg awards with wrong frames, wrong font size, etc.” That is, they were fake.

Need­less to say, I was con­cerned, so I called my old girl-watching buddy Don and in­formed him of my dire sit­u­a­tion. His im­me­diate re­sponse was, “Fake gold records! You gotta be kid­ding me.”

De­spite his busy schedule, he as­sured me that he took my sit­u­a­tion se­ri­ously and would make a few calls on my be­half to check things out.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   For this ar­ticle, the word album refers mostly to LP records. The word single refers to seven-inch, 45 rpm records with one track per side. I don’t ad­dress the var­ious per­mu­ta­tions of sin­gles of the past forty years, such as one-sided sin­gles, twelve-inch sin­gles, cas­sette sin­gles, CD sin­gles, etc.

2   This ar­ticle has been brewing in­side me for a long time. I was fi­nally mo­ti­vated to ad­dress the problem during the re­search I con­ducted on “Double-Albums of the 1950s and ’60s.” Without ex­cep­tion, every “fact” re­garding Gold and Plat­inum Records awarded to double-albums is­sued during the first twenty-five years of the LP were ei­ther in­cor­rect, in­com­plete, or mis­leading. That doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry to write an­other one about how the RIAA counts double-albums. (Be­sides, it will make the Awards look even loopier than they are.)

3   The bit about working with unions is a loaded state­ment: the open and ac­tive hos­tility for the working class and their unions in this country since the Reagan Rev­o­lu­tion was not in play. The RIAA simply worked to find ways to better work with unions (not on how to break them or cheat them).

4   For the word lob­bying you may freely sub­sti­tute “bribing” or “paying off” or “buying.” It won’t hurt the ar­ticle none.

5   To avoid con­fu­sion throughout this ar­ticle, I only cap­i­tal­ized RIAA awards (“Gold Records”). In-house awards or other ref­er­ences are in lower case (“gold records”).

6   This does not mean that the next time that you visit the site of some aging rock­a­billy artist who is­sued a single on Un­be­liev­ably Ob­scure Records in 1962 and he claims that it sold two mil­lion that you should be­lieve him.

7   In 1957, RCA Victor an­nounced that Elvis had sold 12,000,000 sin­gles the year be­fore. They noted that less than 10% of those sin­gles were 78s. By the end of 1958, the few 78s man­u­fac­tured in the US were mostly blues and rhythm & blues records for the black market.

8   This is how screwy it is on the In­ternet: the plaque for the DISRAELI GEARS Gold Record is plainly en­graved, “Pre­sented to Cream to com­mem­o­rate the sales of more than one mil­lion dol­lars worth of Atco Records.” Yet the de­scrip­tion of this item from the on­line auc­tion house that was selling it reads, “Cream Dis­raeli Gears RIAA Gold Record Award. This award was pre­sented to Cream for selling 1,000,000 copies of their album Dis­raeli Gears.” The auc­tion house somehow con­fused $1,000,000 with 1,000,000 copies! No wonder readers and writers are con­fused, hennah?

9   I adapted these three para­graphs from the ar­ticle “A Brief His­tory of the Sony Clas­sical Label” on the of­fi­cial Sony web­site. Sony has since re­moved the orig­inal ar­ticle from its site.

10   This data taken from “R.C.A. Cuts L-P Prices; Many by 30%” in the Chicago Daily Tri­bune De­cember 28, 1954.

11   Ac­tu­ally, there are sev­eral things wrong with Wiki’s sen­tence, “The album earned a Gold Record award for half-a-million sales during 1970.” First, it didn’t sell that many copies. Second, as written, the sen­tence says that the album sold 500,000 copies in one year (1970). To be ac­cu­rate it should read, “In 1970, the album re­ceived a Gold Record Award for sales of a mil­lion dol­lars.”

12   Joseph Mur­rells: Mil­lion Selling Records – From The 1900s To The 1960s (Arco Pub­lishers, 1986).

13   My saying I am con­ser­v­a­tive about any­thing is an in-joke for Jerry Richards.