Building a wall full of gold and platinum albums used to be a requisite part of the rock star experience. But for a variety of reasons, it's getting a lot harder for classic rock artists to add to their collections nowadays.

Below you will find a list of the last time rock's biggest acts earned a platinum plaque by selling over one million copies of a new studio album. (We are not counting "great hits"-type compilations or box sets.)

The shift from physical to digital distribution is the biggest reason for this change. According to the World Economic Forum, in the ten years following the 2001 arrival of Apple's iPod, physical music sales declined by more than 60 percent. This eliminated an estimated $14 million in annual revenue, and replaced it with just $4 million in digital music sales. Streaming services such as Spotify (which launched in the United States in 2011), YouTube and Apple Music have now become the industry's dominant source of income, accounting for two-thirds of all sales in 2022.

The RIAA - which certifies and awards gold, platinum and diamond awards for sales of 500,000, one million and ten million copies respectively - has made a plan to account for digital sales. But it takes 1,500 streams to count for one album sale. So to earn a platinum album strictly from streaming, it would have to generate 1.5 billion streams.

In recent decades, most of rock's biggest and longest-running acts have dramatically slowed down the rate at which they release new albums, perhaps partially because of the reduced income they generate. As an example, AC/DC released five albums in both the '70s and '80s, but just two each in the '90s and '00s, and only two more to date after that.

The days of even the biggest rock artists getting radio support to promote their new albums is long gone, as classic rock stations have almost completely abandoned the notion of adding current songs to their playlists, even from artists whose famous songs dominate their playlists.

The end result of all of this is rock's biggest bands putting out fewer new albums, selling less copies of those albums, and therefore not earning nearly as many plaques for their trophy rooms. We searched the RIAA site for the certification histories from 30 of rock's biggest recently active artists to find out how long its been since they earned a new platinum sales award.

One important disclaimer: Since artists have to request - and pay for - the certification audit process from the RIAA, it's quite possible the numbers listed aren't completely up to date. Using AC/DC as an example again, it seems that their most recent round of certifications took place in December 2019, at which time 1980's Back in Black was credited for sales of 25 million copies. It's most likely that album has sold an additional million copies or more in the past five years, as one example. So theoretically it's possible that more recent albums from some of these artists have sold a million copies but have not been submitted for certification.

The Last Time Rock's 30 Biggest Acts Earned a Platinum Album

It's a lot harder for rock stars to cover their walls with award plaques lately.

Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening

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