NEW YORK -- Members of Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Guns n' Roses and one of rock's newest Hall of Famers, Billy Joel, were among the artists here Tuesday (March 16) to collect diamond awards -- the recording industry's newest honor for mega-sales.
In all, 62 albums qualified for the first diamond-award presentation, which honored albums that have shipped more than 10 million copies.
"Ten million people like us for some reason," Metallica singer/guitarist James Hetfield said in amazement after the ceremony. "Who are these people?"
Although luminaries such as Elton John and Boyz II Men were in attendance, not all the honorees were there. Among the 62 albums cited were the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967); Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979); Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977); Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982); and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (1995); none of those artists showed up.
But the presence of some honorees who showed up to get their 12-inch-high crystal sculptures was a reminder that many once-mighty bands are now in tatters.
Guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, perhaps the most influential hard-rock band ever, appeared together to accept their award for Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album (1971) -- which includes the classic "Stairway to Heaven" -- from Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.
Jones, who in recent years has worked as a producer and arranger on albums by R.E.M., the Butthole Surfers and others, wasn't invited to join Page's recent collaborations with Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Page bristled backstage at a suggestion that Jones' presence might augur a reunion of the three surviving members of the legendary band.
"There's only two people here. Do you see a third?" Page said.
Hard-rockers Guns n' Roses were represented by Steven Adler, the band's original drummer, although he parted ways with the group after its first album. That recording, the 1987 release Appetite for Destruction, included the hit single "Welcome to the Jungle" (RealAudio excerpt) and earned the long-dormant band its diamond.
"I wish the other guys who recorded the album could be here," the blond, long-haired Adler said wistfully.
The diamond award represents another step in music-industry inflation. The Recording Industry Association of America began bestowing gold records in 1958, for albums that ship 500,000 or more copies. The platinum award, introduced in 1976, recognizes shipments of 1 million, and in 1984 the association began giving multiplatinum awards to albums with certified shipments of 2 million.
RIAA president and chief executive officer Hilary Rosen called the diamond award "a quantum leap" for the music industry, representing "the expansion of the U.S. music market." She said the association chose the award's name because "diamonds are valuable [and] no two are alike."
At the start of Tuesday's ceremony, in a curtained-off portion of Roseland Ballroom, about 400 industry representatives watched a slide show spotlighting all 62 albums.
The first artists to emerge from the backstage area behind the podium were Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard, beards and all, of blues-rockers ZZ Top, who were honored for Eliminator (1983).
"This is really a great deal. Go out there and sell another batch," Gibbons told the audience.
Ahmet Ertegun climbed the steps to the podium with the aid of a cane to present Zeppelin's award. "It's great to be in the company of the other artists," Page said. "It's been a remarkable evening." It was actually early afternoon.
Singer Brian Johnson and bassist Cliff Williams accepted AC/DC's diamond for Back in Black (1980) which featured the classic rocker "You Shook Me All Night Long."
"We accept this award on behalf of all the fans who bought this record," Johnson said.
Metallica singer James Hetfield thanked producer Bob Rock "for making
the big noises extra big" on the band's self-titled 1991 album. The LP,
also known as the Black Album, included such breakthrough hits as "Enter Sandman"
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Nothing Else Matters." The goateed Hetfield, who appeared to be growing his hair long again, appeared with bassist Jason Newsted.
A gray-bearded Billy Joel, who was inducted Monday night into the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame, accepted a diamond for his double-album
collection Greatest Hits Volume One and Two (1985).
The pianist, who has said he is no longer interested in writing pop
songs, said his label is "waiting for a new record, but don't hold your breath."
The final artist to take the stage was Elton John, who accepted awards for his 1974 Greatest
Hits album, his "Candle in the Wind 1997" single (a tribute to the
late Princess Diana) and the 1994 soundtrack to the Disney film
"The Lion King," for which John wrote the hit "Can You Feel the Love
John called the award "the biggest accolade we [artists] can be given. ... It means fans have bought our work."
Light-jazz saxophonist Kenny G accepted a diamond award for Breathless (1982) and then dropped the delicate crystal totem, which shattered as it hit the floor.
"That was Billy Joel's," Kenny G quipped.