Gold record plaques originated as an unofficial trophy handed out by music labels to their best-selling artists and teams! This practice long predated the official introduction of the Gold certification through the Recording Industry Association of America in 1958, followed by platinum and diamond in 1976 and 1999 respectively.

To receive certification, record labels need to request the certification and open their books to an independent auditor that they have to pay for!

Receiving recognition as a Gold certified single or album remains an incredible marker of success and joyful celebration for many artists. Country newcomer Lily Rose, who is among the RIAA’s Class of 2021, meaning a first-time award-recipient, said of her song “Villain”, that

"it has changed my life in more ways than one. The morning we wrote it, I had just finished an overnight shift stocking shelves at the mall, and it’s surreal to stand here a year after I released it with over 500,000 units sold, and the incredible writers and my team around me…. looking at a plaque that says certified gold with my name next to it? It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before”.

But are these plaques just meant to be posed with and hung on the wall or can they be played?

The topic is hotly debated and amusing anecdotes and rumors of artists trying to play their gold records surface every so often. John Densmore of The Doors recalls that the gold album he received for “Waiting for the Sun” looked like it had fewer songs on it than the actual record. With encouragement from his wife, he broke open the award and was surprised to hear a highly distorted Rod McKuen poem and orchestral music.

A restorer of vintage awards from New Jersey clarifies that until 1985 RIAA awards were made from the metal stampers that were used to press vinyl records at the pressing plants and then flash plated to appear gold. Later, unused vinyl records were used, but mostly the trouble wasn’t made to ensure these matched the actual music they were meant to celebrate nor were they intended to be listened to.