The first Gold Record was awarded 70 years ago, in February 1942, to Glenn Miller for his recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. It sold 1,200,000 copies. In 1956 Elvis Presley received a Gold Record for 1,000,000 sales of “Don’t Be Cruel.” The following year, 1957, Harry Belafonte was presented with a Gold Record for his album “Calypso”, the first L.P to sell over 1,000,000 copies1.
These were not the first accredited hit songs. That distinction must go to “After the Ball” written in 1892 by Charles K Harris. Over 5 million copies of the sheet music were sold which made Mr. Harris a very wealthy man indeed even though he couldn’t write music and had to ‘la-la’ his tunes to a musical arranger. At one point Harris was clearing $25,000 a month when the average income at a time was $450 a year.
“After the Ball” is a typically sentimental Victorian waltz. A young girl asks her old uncle why he is single and why he lives alone. His reply is tragic. One night at a ball his sweetheart asks him to fetch her glass of water. When he returns he finds her kissing a strange man. Broken hearted he leaves, refusing to hear any explanation. Though he remains true to the girl he rejects her every plea to be heard. Eventually she dies from a broken heart. After her death the old man receives a letter from the fellow he once saw kissing her. That fellow was… wait for it… her brother! Anyone filling up yet?
As other songwriters have observed many times since, it doesn’t pay to pop out at parties…
“Lipstick On Your Collar” by Connie Francis (1959)
When you left me all alone At the record hop Told me you were going out For a soda pop You were gone for quite awhile Half an hour or more You came back And man, oh man This is what I saw... Lipstick on your collar Told a tale on you Lipstick on your collar Said you were untrue
“Little Sister” by Elvis Presley (1961)
Well, I dated your big sister And took her to a show I went out for some candy Along came Jim Dandy And they snuck right out of the door
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore (1963)
Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone Judy left the same time Why was he holding her hand When he's supposed to be mine... It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
Maybe it is because I am getting old. Maybe it is because they have taken “Top of the Pops” off the air, (along with “Pan’s People”, grrrr). Maybe it is because most of today’s popular music is absolute pants but somewhere along the line I seem to have lost the Hit Parade.
There was a time when teenagers were glued to the radio on Sunday evenings to hear the Hit Parade and the Top Ten for the coming week. Not knowing who was in the charts and who was selling what was a sure fire way to be excluded from any conversation. In those days records sold in their thousands and hundreds of thousands and if an artist managed to shift half a million or a full million they would be awarded Silver Records and Gold Records for their achievement.
Actually the last sentence in complete rubbish. First of all the awards, given by the British Phonographic Industry, are not for the number of records sold, but for the number of records shipped to retailers. Secondly the awards are given on the following basis:-
- Platinum Records for 600,000 records shipped
- Gold Records for 400,000 records shipped
- Silver for 200,000 records shipped
No sign of millions or half millions here!
Some gold record trivia:
- Modern awards often use CDs instead of records.
- Most gold and platinum records are actually vinyl records which have been vacuum metallized and tinted.
- Rarely does the groove on the record match the actual recording being awarded.
And finally – a true story about Glenn Miller, the winner of the first Gold Record in 1942
In 1944 Glenn Miller brought his Army Air Force Band to Britain to broadcast. His ‘front man’ visited the BBC and explained that in order to capture the authentic “Miller Sound” the BBC would need to provide 16 microphones. The BBC engineers were rather concerned by this. Although they were sure that they could find 16 microphones somewhere they had no equipment capable of mixing them all together. Their largest sound ‘desk’ could only handle 4 microphones and this had proved perfectly adequate for all the other bands that they had broadcast. However the American ‘front man’ was insistent. To get that all-important ‘Miller Sound’ the BBC had to supply 16 microphones.
So the BBC hunted around, found 16 microphones and laid them out as the ‘front man’ directed. Glenn Miller and the AAF band arrived and content with their 16 microphones sat down and played. The sound that was broadcast was perfect, the riffing saxes swinging in tight syncopation, the gentle throb of the rhythm section and over it all the sweet sound of a clarinet and tenor sax handling the melody.
“There you are,” said the ‘front man’. “You give me 16 microphones and I’ll give you the authentic Glenn Miller sound.” The BBC engineers just smiled and nodded politely. They wondered if the American ‘front man’ could tell which 4 of the assembled microphones were actually plugged in and working.
Enjoy the first big hits…..
Charles K Harris sings his own composition “After the Ball” (1930)
Glenn Miller Band – “Chattanooga Choo Choo”
From “Sun Valley Serenade” 1941 (featuring the Nicholas Brothers)
1 These early awards were made by RCA, the company that owned the recordings. In 1958 the Recording Industry Association of America decided that these ‘company awards’ were a little too self serving so they introduced a ‘Gold Award Programme’ of their own. Their current scale is:-
- Diamond Records for 10,000,000 records shipped
- Multi-Platinum Records for at least 2,000,000 records shipped.
- Platinum Records for 1,000,000 records shipped
- Gold Records for 500,000 records shipped
— from Martyn Day