For as long as most people have been buying popular music on records, tapes and compact disks, the records, tapes and disks they’ve bought have carried labels like “Certified Gold!” and “Double Platinum!!” Those labels have been in use since the early days of the rock-and-roll era, when a young trade organization called the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) created and trademarked its precious-metals-based scale for measuring music sales. On March 14, 1958, the RIAA awarded its first official Gold Record to Perry Como for his smash-hit single “Catch A Falling Star.”
Those who’ve been conditioned to believe that rock and roll wiped out everything in its path on its way toward dominating late-20th-century pop music may be surprised to hear that Perry Como was such a viable commercial artist fully two years after the arrival of Elvis Presley. Como, a 50-something holdover in a cozy cardigan sweater, stood for everything that youthful rock and roll did not, after all. Where rock and roll promised sex, excitement and social change, Como’s act evoked much more staid pursuits. Yet “Catch A Falling Star” was not the only hit record for Perry Como in the early years of the rock-and-roll “revolution.” Songs like “Hot Diggity” and “Round And Round” more than held their own against more rebellious fare, and while they might not have been “cool,” they didn’t need to be in order to find an audience in late 1950s America.
It is certainly worth noting, however, that the RIAA waited until Elvis Presley’s string of pre-Army hits was over before codifying what was formerly a loose, PR-driven process and creating an objective standard (500,000 sales) for the Gold Record. After the first Gold Record was awarded to Perry Como for “Catch A Falling Star,” the RIAA’s next honoree was Laurie London for “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” And while Elvis Presley was the third artist to receive such an honor (for “Hard Headed Woman” in August 1958), his single Gold Record through the end of 1961 had him tied on the RIAA’s list with Lawrence Welk (whose “Calcutta” was certified Gold in February 1961).