Gold records were originally presented to artists by their own label, primarily as a form of self-congratulatory publicity. The very first framed gold record of this type was presented to the American bandleader Glenn Miller by RCA Victor in February 1942. This was in recognition of the sale of 1.2 million copies of his single “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. In 1956 Elvis Presley later received a gold record after selling 1 million copies of “Don’t Be Cruel”, but this was again a company award.
The Recording Industry Association of America was formed in 1952 to develop the burgeoning recording industry, and introduced its own industry-wide award program six years later. Issued to recognise any single that sold over a million copies (or an album that achieved one million dollars in sales), the first gold record was awarded to Perry Como for “Catch A Falling Star” that later won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal.
Como had previously awarded the McGuire Sisters with a company gold record on the Gisele MacKenzie Show for their million-selling song Sugartime. He was in turn presented with his RIAA gold record on live television by announcer Frank Gallop who erroneously referred to “Chase a Falling Star” before Como performed a comedy arrangement of the song.
Increasing record sales in the 1970s led to the introduction of the platinum award to recognise singles that sold more than two million units, but the number of required sales was halved in 1989 to its current level of 500,000 for gold and one million for platinum.
German pop duo Milli Vanilli were stripped of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist after it emerged that they did not sing any of the vocals on their debut album.
Milli Vanilli was founded by German record producer and songwriter Frank Farian in 1988. He had previously created the disco-pop group Boney M., for whom he provided all the male recorded vocals. This was despite another man, Bobby Farrell, being the male ‘face’ of the band during live performances.
In the late 1980s Farian began to record a number of songs for a new album, using session musicians and vocalists. Having decided that the vocalists did not have a marketable image, Farian recruited two good-looking male dancers to lip-sync to the tracks. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan later claimed that they were “trapped” by the contract they had signed with Farian.
The group’s debut album, All or Nothing, was released in Europe in November 1988 and was followed by an American release, Girl You Know It’s True, four months later. Unlike the European release the American packaging explicitly stated that Morven and Pilatus were the vocalists. During a live performance for MTV that summer, however, the public witnessed a key sign of lip-syncing when the backing track began to skip and repeat part of a vocal line over and over again.
In December one of the vocalists on the recordings, Charles Shaw, revealed his involvement to a reporter. Despite a rumoured $150,000 payment by Farian to retract the claim, rumours about lip-syncing only continued. On 12 November 1990 Farian finally admitted that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing Milli Vanilli’s songs. Just four days later the group’s Grammy Award was withdrawn.