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New Golden Rule: 500,000 Sales Mark for All Singles

May 14, 1989|PAUL GREIN

The gold standard just isn't what it used to be--and we're not talking about Ft. Knox.

While overall sales are up in the music business, the action is centered on cassettes and compact discs. Sales of single records have plummeted in the '80s because of the move away from vinyl and the fact that labels haven't fully established CD or cassette singles as a viable replacement for their vinyl counterparts.

In response to the single's nosedive, the Recording Industry Assn. of America recently dropped the sales requirement for a gold single from 1 million to 500,000. At the same time, the Washington-based trade association dropped the requirement for a platinum single from 2 million to 1 million.

The move was widely hailed in the music industry, which contended that the old requirements were simply too hard to meet in today's market. Just five pop singles went gold in 1987 and 1988 combined --about as many as there were in a typical month in the 1970s.

But the RIAA didn't lower the requirement just for current singles. It decreed all singles that sold 500,000 copies are eligible for gold, no matter when they were released. Similarly, all 991 singles that went gold between 1958 and 1988 are now eligible for platinum status.

Critics charge that the move threatens to dilute the impact of gold and platinum awards. In the '70s, when there was an average of 59 million-selling singles each year, one that sold 500,000 copies was only a modest hit.

Furthermore, critics also charge that the move favors records from the '60s and '70s, when it was much easier to meet these sales requirements. Even under the reduced guidelines, Madonna--one of the two or three most successful singles artist of the '80s--would have just three platinum singles, fewer than the briefly popular Bobby Sherman, who landed his four million-selling singles in the late '60s and early '70s.

The critics' suggestion: Impose a cutoff whereby only singles released after a certain year--say, 1985--would be allowed to qualify under the new guidelines.

Hilary Rosen, RIAA's senior vice president of business and government affairs, said that the association reviewed the policy after a critical editorial appeared in Billboard magazine recently, but decided to stick by its decision.

One reason, she said, was that eight older singles have already been certified platinum under the reduced guidelines and the RIAA didn't want to "flip-flop" on the issue.

Rosen added that the decision to lower the sales requirement "was more of a matter of equity for the more recent releases than it was an attempt to boost singles from the past. This was not an attempt to boost the number of platinum singles that are out there, but we don't see the harm of it if that's the end result. We think it's good to give singles a boost."

Is the RIAA more interested in keeping its member record companies happy than it is in historical fairness or perspective?

RIAA vice president Trish Heimers Heimers is candid on the point.

"We work for our members," she said. "They pay our bills. They pay my rent. That's the (nature) of a trade organization. . . But our primary objective is to do what's right for the industry. We feel as a trade association that this change was long overdue. We just decided that the fairest approach was to make the criteria the same for all records."

RUMOR CONTROL: What's the most popular rock 'n ' roll rumor of the past few months? It's the notion that David Lee Roth is rejoining Van Halen, the superstar pop/metal band he left four years ago for a solo career.

The rumor apparently started when ace guitarist Steve Vai left Roth's band to join Whitesnake two months ago. And it's easy to see why it has circulated so widely: While fans have embraced the new Van Halen--with Sammy Hagar on vocals--they also loved the old lineup.

There's only one problem with the rumor. It's not true.

"There's absolutely nothing to it," said Ed Leffler, who has managed Van Halen since the shake-up in 1985.

"It's complete, utter nonsense. Of course, when people hear it often enough they believe where there's smoke there's fire. The more I deny it, almost the worse it makes it. It's exasperating."

Roth and Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen were both backstage at one of Bon Jovi's recent concerts at the Forum, but Leffler said they didn't even speak. "Alex was smart enough to know that that's the last thing in the world they'd want to do with all the photographers around," he said.

NEWS NOTES: The Waterboys, the Irish band whose "Fisherman's Blues" was one of 1988's most critically acclaimed albums, plans to tour the U.S. in late summer. . . . Chicago and the Beach Boys plan to play together for a half-hour at the end of each show on their summer tour, which touches down at the Pacific Amphitheatre May 27 and at the Hollywood Bowl May 28. The groups, both of which scored No. 1 singles late last year, have toured together previously, but haven't joined forces on stage.

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