How 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' Became The World's First Gold Record Seventy-five years ago, Glenn Miller's hit kicked off a music industry tradition — and helped change its namesake city.
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How 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' Became The World's First Gold Record

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How 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' Became The World's First Gold Record

How 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' Became The World's First Gold Record

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The music industry owes the swing-era big-band leader Glenn Miller a thank you. It was because of his record label that we award gold records to hit songs. Seventy-five years ago today, Miller's song about a train trip became the world's first solid-gold hit. It also brought fame to a certain southern city. Michael Edward Miller of member station WUTC has the story.

MICHAEL EDWARD MILLER, BYLINE: "Chattanooga Choo Choo" is about a man going home and promising his sweetheart he'll never roam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) There's going to be a certain party at the station.

PAULA KELLY: (Singing) Satin and lace...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) I used to call funny face.

MILLER: By February 10, 1942, more than 1.2 million copies had been sold. The record label, RCA Victor, celebrated by presenting Glenn Miller with a trophy during a live radio broadcast. Here's announcer Paul Douglas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL DOUGLAS: I think everyone listening in on the radio should know, Glenn, it actually is a recording of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," but it's in gold, and is really fine.

GLENN MILLER: That's right, Paul. And now for the boys in the band, and thanks a million two-hundred thousand.

MILLER: Miller's honor started at a self-congratulatory tradition of labels awarding their own artists framed gold records. Then as rock 'n' roll's rising popularity changed the record industry, music historian Robert Oermann says new trade organizations formed.

ROBERT OERMANN: One of them was the Recording Industry Association of America. And this is where the idea of an outside certification firm comes in.

MILLER: In 1958, "Catch A Falling Star" by Perry Como earned the first RIAA gold. Meanwhile, Glenn Miller's gold changed its namesake city.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO")

THE MODERNAIRES: (Singing) So Chattanooga Choo Choo...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) Won't you choo-choo me home.

THE MODERNAIRES: (Singer) Chattanooga, Chattanooga...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

MILLER: A train bell rings at the historic platform in Chattanooga. It used to be the city's passenger rail hub and narrowly avoided the wrecking ball. Then entrepreneurs transformed it into a hotel where actual train cars serve as rooms. The city's tourism chief, Bob Doak, says the song became Chattanooga's calling card.

BOB DOAK: Kids of all ages, including adults, loved to come in for the novelty of spending a night in a train.

MILLER: The developers picked an obvious name - the Chattanooga Choo Choo, capitalizing on the song that Glenn Miller first turned to gold 75 years ago. For NPR News I'm Michael Edward Miller.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN MILLER SONG, "CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO")

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