Motown Monday: Motown Gold?

Motown Mondays is a regular feature of this blog. By “regular” I mean whenever I feel like it but at least always on a Monday; and always about Motown, duh.

rick james coverAuguscommodores covert 22, 1978 was an important date in the history of Motown. On that day, the iconic music company was awarded its first Gold album – Rick James’ Come and Get It; and its first Platinum album The Commodores Natural High. Three years later in the fall of 1981, Diana Ross’ Upside Down and the Diana Ross/Lionel Ritchie Endless Love duet became Motown’s first gold and platinum singles, respectively[1].

I know what you’re thinking. Uh, Ray, so where are all those records by The Temptations and the Supremes and The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye? Please Mr. Postman? Dancing In the Streets? Tears of a Clown? Seriously, Ray, you need to fire your Crack Research Staff.

OK, here’s the deal. Gold, Platinum, and now Diamond[2] are designations by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the member-based trade organization for the music industry. The RIAA certifies these designations through a CPA audit that assures accurate accounting of the sales necessary to meet its thresholds. And for most of Motown’s legendary history, it was not a member of the RIAA because its founder Berry Gordy:

  • refused to pay the membership dues
  • refused to allow any outside organization to audit Motown’s accounts[3]

Motown did not became an RIAA member until the late 70s. Hence, there are no certified Gold or Platinum records for all those classic songs of the 60s and early 70s. Naturally, Motown would hold award ceremonies for publicity purposes based in their own unconfirmed sales figures. And when Gordy presented an artist with a gold record during those years, instead of it being a metallic disc, it was literally just any album spray-painted and framed. According to legend, Marvin Gaye discovered one of his “gold” records was actually a Supremes record!

So now that you know my Crack Research Staff isn’t crazy, they’d like to further educate you with this:

  • Two Motown artists have reached RIAA-certified 2x-Platinum status singles (two million units sold): Kelly Rowland for Motivation in 2013; and Drake for The Motto in 2012.
  • Three Motown artists have reached RIAA-certified Diamond status albums: Lionel Ritchie (Can’t Slow Down), Boyz II Men (II) and Stevie Wonder (Songs In the Key of Life).
  • And yes, because of the Motown mini-boom that followed the 1983 movie The Big Chill, and the enduring popularity of the great Motown artists, many of the classic Motown singles and albums did eventually achieve Gold status or better.

__________________________________________________________________

[1] Gold = 500,000 units sold; platinum = 1,000,000 units sold.

[2] 10,000,000 units sold.

[3] His artists could examine the books twice per year but that’s a long story in and of itself.

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