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What was the first-ever platinum album?


The official designation for an album going platinum in the United States is selling one million copies. The most recently released album to have been certified platinum by the RIAA is the Encanto soundtrack, but over the past year, only seven contemporary albums have been given the distinctive certification. In the age of streaming and reduced physical album sales, platinum certifications have plummeted.

At one point, having a platinum record was the most distinctive sign of success in the music industry. Not only has the number of platinum albums significantly dropped, but the interest in achieving a platinum record has gone down exponentially as well. The RIAA requires artists to submit and subsequently resubmit their own albums for certification rather than doing it automatically, and the process is becoming less necessary for artists to show the success of their works. That’s why Adele’s 30 isn’t certified platinum, despite having sold over 800,000 units during its first week of release. 30 is almost assuredly a platinum album, but Adele doesn’t seem to feel the need to have the RIAA certify it just to say she has a platinum record.

The RIAA is quickly becoming a gatekeeper for a long-gone era of the music industry. If you want to know how popular an album is, go check its number of streams. If you want an easy illustration of an album’s success, just see what position it is on the Billboard chart (although that chart is quickly losing its relevancy as well). Getting a platinum record requires a direct appeal to an organisation that actively lobbies against making music widely available to listeners, and artists don’t need the RIAA anymore to know the level of their success.

In fact, for the first 20 years of its existence, the RIAA were largely a non-concern for even the most image-conscious artists. The gold record was first introduced in 1956, but the original designation for a gold record was one million dollars in equivalent sales, not the number of albums sold. The first single to ever achieve gold status was Perry Como’s ‘Catch a Falling Star’.

But in 1976, the RIAA introduced the platinum album certification. If a record sold one million copies, it would be designated a platinum album, which became catnip for artists to display in photo-ops (singles now had to sell two million albums to be certified platinum). Soon having a platinum album was a necessity for any band worth its salt, and in an industry that was regularly selling hundreds of millions of albums a year, there was no shortage of photo-ops taking place. 

When the RIAA first announced the platinum designation, a number of albums were submitted for certification. While a number of albums had retrospectively been deemed worthy of the honour, the RIAA opted to give the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) the honour. That album had only been released a week prior and had already qualified, with the RIAA opting for a contemporary release rather than one from the past. Over the next year, over 50 albums received platinum certifications.

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