I LEFT WIKIPEDIA ALONE for the past few months, even though critiquing their entries is like shooting fish in a barrel. When it comes to “definitions” of persons and terms regarding popular music, Wikipedia’s theme song seems to be a well-known song by Elvis: “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place. “Substitute “boneheaded statements” for “trouble” and you’ve got Wikipedia nailed.
Mind you, I don’t go there looking for boneheaded statements. Hell’s Belles, I don’t go there much at all but nonetheless find myself there on occasion and when I do—lo and behold!—there are boneheaded statements, posing as facts! I was actually looking up something for an article I am working on when I found a reference on Google to a Wikipedia entry.
I found myself reading “Music recording certification” where, aside from the usual awkward writing, I found the usual factual errors. So, in need of a new article for this blog that was quick and easy to write, I am addressing that entry. For this article, I am going to ignore several boners in the Wiki piece—such as Belafonte’s CALYPSO being the first LP to sell a million copies—as they lack credits for their source. 1
While I favor Wikipedia’s being written collaboratively by anonymous volunteers in theory, it just ain’t working all that well in practice.
It’s more fun checking out those boners that are sourced so I can see what kind of material the Wiki contributor thinks justifies the entry. So, scroll down to the fifth paragraph in the article, which reads:
“At the industry level, in 1958 the Recording Industry Association of America introduced its gold record award program for records of any kind, albums or singles, which achieved one million dollars in retail sales. These sales were restricted to U.S.-based record companies and did not include exports to other countries. For albums in 1968, this would mean shipping approximately 250,000 units; for singles, the number would be higher due to their lower retail price. The platinum certification was introduced in 1976 for the sale of one million units for albums and two million for singles, with the gold certification redefined to mean sales of 500,000 units for albums and one million for singles.”
Perry Como’s Catch A Falling Star was released in the final days of 1957 and reached #2 on both the Billboard and Cash Box Top 100 surveys in March 1958. It was the first single to be certified by the RIAA for their then-new Gold Record Award. There was nothing special about this record or its selling a million; it just happened to be the first record that any of the record companies submitted for certification.
Good sources or bad?
There are three sources cited are in the paragraph above. Please keep in mind that while any new piece of information submitted to Wikipedia, including corrections, requires the URL of the source of the new information, no one is required to check the veracity or accuracy of those sources. The sources are the blue numbers in superscript, each of which is a link to another website:
 Shannon Venable: Gold – A Cultural Encyclopedia
Venable’s book is an encyclopedia that “consists of more than 130 entries that encompass every aspect of gold, ranging from the ancient metallurgical arts to contemporary economies. The connections between these interdisciplinary subjects are explored and analyzed to highlight the many ways humankind’s fascination with gold reflects historical, cultural, economic, and geographic developments.”
I have no idea why anyone would cite this book as a reliable source for information about gold record awards.
 Robert Shelton: No Direction Home – The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan
Shelton was a music and film critic for The New York Times in the ’60s, covering folk music but branching out into pop, rock, and country music. No Direction Home was a “serious” look at Dylan and arguably the most important book ever written about Dylan as an artist and not merely a pop star.
I suppose there could be information in this book that could cause a neophyte rock researcher to believe that Shelton was a reliable source for information about gold record awards.
 Adam White: The Billboard Book Of Gold & Platinum Records
White’s book is an ideal source for data about gold record awards! In fact, I left a review of White’s book on Amazon in 2016: “This may be the only book ever published that gives accurate information on the RIAA’s original criteria for determining a Gold Record Award. 90% of writers and websites get this information incorrect when writing about albums from the ’60s and ’70s! A treasure for researchers.”
Again, White’s book is an ideal source for data about gold record awards provided you cite White’s actual words (see below).
Despite these sources—or perhaps because of them—there are seven errors in those five sentences! To make it easier to follow my criticisms, I have broken up Wikipedia’s one paragraph into three sections for ease in reading.
The only information on author Shannon L. Venable that I could find on the internet is one line on Amazon: “Shannon L. Venable, veteran writer and educator, is an authority on the economic and social implications of luxury and wealth.” That is, Mr. or Ms. Venable may not exist and the name may be a pseudonym or a house name.
Records of any kind?
Here are the first two sentences from the Wikipedia paragraph above. The superscript numbers in bold print are mine and basically mark the errors. Each is addressed below: “At the industry level, in 1958 the Recording Industry Association of America introduced its gold record award program for records of any kind (1), albums or singles, which achieved one million dollars in retail sales (2). These sales were restricted to U.S.-based record companies and did not include exports to other countries.”
(1) The original RIAA Gold Record Awards apparently did not include “records of any kind.” The awards covered 45 rpm singles (the 78 rpm single was effectively extinct by 1958) and 33⅓ rpm LP albums only. (For some weird reason, pre-recorded tapes were not counted until 1970.) I cannot find any evidence that the RIAA awards covered 45 rpm extended-play albums (or EPs).
The EP album was introduced by RCA Victor in 1952 and had been a commercial disappointment until 1956 when Elvis Presley ‘s EPs started selling like hotcakes. By 1958, at least one Elvis EP had passed the million mark in sales in the US and a second one was on its way. Yet the first EPs to be certified for any RIAA Awards did not occur until 1992!
(2) More importantly, the RIAA Awards were not made to “albums or singles which achieved one million dollars in retail sales.” Not even close! Here are the basic criteria as explained on page 3 of the Adam White book:
“From 1958 through 1988, a single had to sell a minimum of one million copies to qualify for gold certification. From 1958 through 1974, the minimum requirement for a gold album was $1 million dollars in sales at manufacturer wholesale prices, based on 33⅓ percent of the list price for each album. From January 1, 1975, an additional requirement was that an album sold a minimum of 500,000 copies.”
In 1961, Robert Shelton wrote a review of Bob Dylan for The New York Times that effectively “discovered” the young singer. He and Dylan became friends, which may have helped make this an interesting book but not necessarily a reliable source for information of the RIAA.
Lower retail price?
Here is the third sentence from the Wikipedia paragraph above: “For albums in 1968, this would mean shipping (3) approximately 250,000 units (4); for singles, the number would be higher due to their lower retail price (5).”
(3) In 1968, RIAA certification was based on how many copies actually sold in stores, not on how many copies the record company “shipped” to distributors.
(4) The 250,000 figure is based on the incorrect assumption that the retail price was counted. So let’s remember that the minimum requirement for a gold album in 1968 was “$1 million dollars in sales at manufacturer wholesale prices, based on 33⅓ percent of the list price for each album.”
• The retail price for a pop LP was approximately $5.00. 2
• 33⅓ percent of $5 is approximately $1.50.
• 1,000,000 divided by 150 is approximately 667,000.
And 667,000 is how many copies a single record had to sell in 1968 to be certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award.
(5) Neither the retail nor the wholesale were ever a part of the criteria for RIAA certification of a single.
Adam White is also the co-author of two other books on popular music: Motown: The Sound Of Young America (with Barney Ales) and Billboard Book Of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits (with Fred Bronson). The Billboard Book Of Gold & Platinum Records belongs on every pop music researcher’s shelf alongside Joseph Murrells’ book Million Selling Records From The 1900s To The 1980s.
Sales of 500,000 units?
Here is the fourth sentence from the Wikipedia paragraph above: “The platinum certification was introduced in 1976 for the sale of one million units for albums and two million for singles, with the gold certification redefined to mean sales of 500,000 units for albums (6) and one million for singles (7).”
(6) This may seem like nitpicking, but the criteria for a gold album still called for $1 million in sales at the wholesale level. In 1976, the RIAA added a requirement: that a minimum of 500,000 units also be sold.
(7) Gold certification had always been one million for singles. 3
The first 33⅓ rpm LP album to be certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award was Capitol’s 1955 soundtrack to the motion picture OKLAHOMA (SAO-595). As the album was a deluxe package with a gatefold jacket, it carried a retail price one dollar higher than the usual $3.95 of the time. So it would have to have sold at least 667,000 copies by 1958 to qualify for a Gold Record Award. According to Joseph Murrells’ book Million Selling Records From The 1900s To The 1980s, it reached a million copies sold in 1959.
How do they do that?
That’s seven errors in four sentences. Wikipedia effectively got everything important wrong. How do they do that? I mean, maybe I could do that if I consumed a bottle of Jack Daniels.
In one hour.
On an empty stomach.
Finally, here’s a little test for you all: Mosey on over to “Music recording certification” on Wikipedia. Scroll down “RIAA certification” and read this sentence:
“As music sales increased with the introduction of compact discs, the RIAA created the Multi-Platinum award in 1984.”
Okay, now what’s wrong with this statement?
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones in the RKO production of Oklahoma! (with the exclamation mark). It was the first feature film photographed in the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process (and was simultaneously filmed in CinemaScope 35mm. It won the Academy Award for Best Musical Picture Score of 1955.
1 A boner is “a clumsy or stupid mistake” (Merriam-Webster) and is pretty much an antiquated term today, seeing as how everyone associates it with something else.
2 In 1968, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for LPs varied from company to company. For some, the price was as low as $4.79 while for others it was as high as $4.98.
3 Due to the drastic decline in the sales of 45 rpm singles, the criteria for singles was dropped to only 500,000 copies in 1989. This was applied retroactively.