Music Lists #7: The Top 10 Golden Throats of the 60s and 70s

1. I was listening to the Temptations recently when I was overwhelmed by the fact that David Ruffin has undoubtedly the greatest voice in pop music history. I'll hear no dissension on the matter. His voice is a mixture of pure joy and pain in perfect equilibrium. These two elements were given a polished shine by the Temptations, the most precise vocal group ever. But don't take my word for it, Daryl Hall will tell you the same thing.

2. Dusty Springfield's voice had an ethereal quality. No vocal gymnastics and overdone melisma here - just a sound that is pure auditory ambrosia.

3. Most people probably know Sandy Denny from Led Zeppelin's haunting mandolin song "The Battle of Evermore", but anyone who's listened to Fairport Convention knows she possessed one the best voices you are likely to ever hear.

4. Not many would argue that Paul McCartney is among the greatest songwriters, but he isn't generally regarded as one of the greatest vocalists. Yet look at how perfectly his voice goes from the melodic ("All My Loving"), to the commanding("Lady Madonna"), to the bellicose ("Helter Skelter"); McCartney's voice always seems to fit perfectly. His voice harmonized brilliantly with Lennon's and could jump from soft to grandiose in an instant (i.e. "Maybe I'm Amazed"). Perhaps a guy like Clay Aiken (eegad!) can do more with his voice, but there's a lot to be said for just creating the right sound to fit the song.

And the rest...

5. Roberta Flack
6. Colin Blunstone (The Zombies)
7. Peter Cetera (Chicago)
8. Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night)
9. Toni Tennille
10. Tina Turner

Of course, you don't necessarily need great singing - guys like Joe Walsh may not be Pavarotti, but anyone else's vocals behind "Rocky Mountain Way" just wouldn't sound right. And it also depends on what mood your in - Barry White for that lovin' mood and Waylon Jennings for when it's time to drink yourself into a coma.

Worst voice? Robin Gibb sounds like a drowning chicken alone, but his voice harmonizes perfectly with Barry and Maurice. So, I guess he's okay.

Rolling Stone magazine's list of the top 100 vocalists can be found here. Although, I wasn't that impressed - it seems a bit predictable and off the mark.

BTW: The original golden throats, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, and Bing Crosby certainly sang with perfection, but they hit their peak before the 60s/70s.

And if you're wondering why octave showboaters like Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey aren't mentioned, you may want to read Reflections on Contemporary Music (and Why It Sucks) Part 2


  1. You won't get any debate from me on this. Great choices you listed.

  2. Golden Throats and nooooo Linda Lovelace?

  3. Fascinating choices!
    Listen to Paul on I WILL from the White Album. Smoothest vocals ever.

    Also, glad to see some love for Chuck Negron! I have said for years he is SO underrated!!

    Love Ruffin, too. Spoke with his niece recently. She says lots of the info out there about him is erroneous and she's writing a new book! (I'm more of an Eddie Kendricks guy myself)

    And in the "What about...?" section--Marvin Gaye?

  4. Thank you for the McCartney shout-out. Too many people denigrate him over Lennon.

  5. Keith - Thanks, man. Sorry no Dino on the list - but my explanation for it is near the end of the post.

    Laura - Andrea True would've been #11. ;-)

    Booksteve - You spoke with Ruffin's neice recently? Cool. Wasn't Rick James the nephew of one of the Temptations?

    And yes, Marvin sings better than half the people on this list, but I wanted it to be somewhat varied and not stacked with David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, Danny Hathaway, Eddie Kendricks, Al Green and Billy Davis, Jr.

    East Side - You're quite welcome. Mickey Dolenz is another vocalist who doesn't get his due.

  6. Er, um... DONNY Hathaway. My bad.

  7. I'd have Burton Cummings from The Guess Who. I've really grown in admiration for his voice in recent years. Also Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane. And I agree with you and Booksteve on Chuck Negron.

    I agree with the Temptations, they were great, but I also like the Four Tops about as much.

    Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin (OK, maybe she isn't "golden" but I love her), Hank Williams Jr., so many voices to chose from.

  8. Great list--I'd have included Joplin and Al Green, but when you say only 10, you've got to really pare it down.

    I'm fascinated by your ranking of Toni Tenille (whom I LOVE) over Tina Turner (whom I LOVE). Still, if you'd reversed them, I'd probably be saying "I'm fascinated by your ranking of Tina Turner over Toni Tenille...." Tough one.

  9. Retro Hound - Interesting choice of Burton Cummings - I wouldn't have thought of him, but now that you mention it, he did have a great voice.

    I can't put the Four Tops on par with the Temptations. They were great, but Kendricks, Ruffin, Williamss, etc. could not be beat in terms of precision.

    Interesting you should mention Bocephus. I almost put George Jones - both have the ideal voice for country music.

    dguzman - I've never been able to get into Joplin. It's not for lack of trying. She certainly puts a lot of feeling into her music, but I guess I need something a bit more melodic.

  10. Tiny Tim - worst voice?

  11. Check out my man Ike and the fro!


  12. Glad to see you name-checking the great Sandy Denny here. You might be interested in my Sandy blog at www.sandydenny.blogspot.com.

  13. Great list--love Dusty and Toni (who turned 69 yesterday--hard to believe). However, I'd have to include Karen Carpenter and Olivia Newton-John on my list of Golden Throats (and maybe Marilyn McCoo--she was the 5th Dimension).

  14. AnonymousMay 09, 2009

    No Freddie Mercury, the greatest singer in 70's rock??? How about Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and Elvis?? Yes, McCartney has a great voice for the music, but there are many others that had a great voice for their music. And don't forget Karen Carpenter, a butt of jokes but a beautifully pure singer.

  15. I think I'll have to agree with both Deep Dish and Anonymous - Karen Carpenter should be on this list. But who to exclude? Maybe Colin Blunstone. His voice is otherworldly but perhaps not an equal to Karen whose inner sadness always shone through brilliantly. She could be singing about ice cream and puppies and I'd feel depressed.

  16. AnonymousMay 10, 2009

    Great list! I'd have to add Petula Clark to that list. Nothing like a little "Downtown" to make me feel like a gazillion bucks.

  17. Nice to see some love for McCartney as a vocalist....one of the great and most distinctive voices in pop music history.

  18. Anonymous - Damn. I should've made this a top 20 list; it's a crime against humanity to not have Pet on here!

    Jeremy - Couldn't agree more!

  19. I've always thought Chaka Khan had the greatest voice ever. Man she can do it.

  20. For your consideration......Jack Bruce (Cream)