Some soul tracks are timeless, while others remain firmly connected with their particular era. The Floaters' 1977 crossover hit "Float On" fits that bill, as the members rap about their astrological signs and cheesy pickup lines ("to me all women are wild flowers," one whispers). But the song still conjures memories of lazy summer days and the sounds of sweet soul on the radio. The Floaters may not have lasted long, but their song has become a classic 1970s groove.
The Floaters evolved from another R&B group, the Detroit Emeralds. Formed in 1968, the former Little Rock, Arkansas singers scored early 70s soul hits with "You Want It, You Got It" and "Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms)." Vocalist James Mitchell and the other Emeralds owned a Detroit club, appropriately titled The Emerald Lounge, and hosted new talent events on Sundays. One such group, the Junior Floaters, graced the stage; its members were already familiar to the Detroit Emeralds, however. James' younger brother Paul, Larry Cunningham, Ralph Mitchell (no relation), Charles Clark, and Jonathan Murray comprised the group, which drew the attention of Emeralds members James Mitchell, Marvin Willis, and Arnold Ingram. They spent six months writing material for the now-dubbed "Floaters," including "Float On," a song meant to introduce the act to new listeners.
According to All Music, James Mitchell patterned the song after the Temptations not only because of harmonic similarities. He noticed how women responded to individual Temptations members, so he wrote "raps" in the track so each Floater could introduce himself. After signing with label Fee Records, the Floaters released their first single, "I am So Glad I Took My Time." ABC Records soon acquired Fee, adding the group to their already impressive roster of artists (one such labelmate: the Dramatics). The Floaters recorded "Float On" in a garage recording studio, and included the following personnel: guitarists Dennis Coffey ("Scorpio") and Kenny Goodman; bassist Guy Hudson; drummer Arthur "Buster" Marbury; percussionist Lorenzo Brown; vibes player Jack Brokensha; flutist Larry Nazero; clarinetist/synth player Gary Schunk; pianist Ingram; and trumpeter Willis. The smooth track gained immediate success in the UK, then topped the US R&B charts and peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Their subsequent self-titled album fared well on the soul and pop charts; after their 1977 hot streak, they could not sustain their crossover success. After recording three more albums between 1978 and 1981, all of which experienced minor R&B success, they split. Nine years later they reformed, and still tour.
Lyrically, the song bears little weight. Floaters singers Ralph Mitchell, Paul Mitchell, Cunningham, and Clark each describe what kinds of women they prefer, announce their astrological signs, and croon part of the chorus: "Take my hand / Come with me, baby, to Love Land / Let me show you how sweet it could be / Sharing love with me, I want you to..." These lines lead into the title sung repeatedly over a lush, Philadelphia Sound-like background. The rest of the song contains a laid back vibe, reminiscent of Roy Ayers' slow-burning grooves. It's the kind of track tailor made for outdoor barbecues, lounging around the pool, or sitting in the sun. Somehow those lazily swaying chords symbolize summer as well as romance, and the Floaters' flawless harmonies enhance that aura. Its words transport the listener back to the 1970s in a now-charming way.
The Floaters may have experienced only brief chart success, but "Float On" stands as a classic 70s soul track and an audial time machine. Be sure to listen to the almost 12-minute version in addition to the radio edit.