The Floaters and Their Classic Hit “Float On”


The Floaters were a short-lived R&B vocal group in the 1970s who achieved fleeting fame via their #2 Billboard Hot 100 single “Float On.” The classic lineup comprised of founder James Mitchell, and other members Paul Mitchell (James’ brother), Ralph Mitchell (unrelated to the brothers), Larry Cunningham and Charles Clark. Apparently conceived from James Mitchell’s dream, “Float On” was an astounding success on both the R&B and pop singles charts in 1977. Follow-up singles such as “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” and “I Just Want To Be With You” were arguably better than their first hit, but despite the songs charting on the R&B singles rankings they nevertheless couldn’t shake off the group’s one-hit wonder tag.

The formation of the Floaters

Detroit, Michigans’ The Floaters was created in 1976 by James Mitchell and Marvin Willis, onetime members of the Detroit Emeralds. Other founding members of the Floaters also include James’ brother Paul, as well Larry Cunningham, Charles Clark and Ralph Mitchell (who was unrelated to the brothers). Later member Jonathan “Mighty Midget” Murray joined the Floaters in 1978.


The Floaters’ “Float On” – an odd R&B and soul classic

The Floaters may have provided one of soul’s more bizarre moments. James Mitchell, as well as other songwriters Marvin Willis and Arnold Ingram, penned a tune called “Float On” which was apparently inspired by James’ dream. The song, which features spoken verses, spotlights each of the members who introduces themselves, states his astrological sign as well as his preferences for a possible date. For instance:“Aquarius, and my name is Ralph / Now I like a woman who loves her freedom / And I like a woman who can hold her own / And if you fit that description, baby, come with me.” It could well be sounding like a dating advertisement.

The single was released on ABC Records. Executed in an ethereal, smooth soul style that reminisces of Barry White’s, “Float On” gave the group their #1 R&B hit as well as a #2 smash on the Hot 100 in 1977. It also peaked at #1 on the British singles chart and #5 on the Irish singles chart that same year.

Thanks to “Float On”‘s chart success, the single pushed its album (The Floaters’ self-titled debut LP) to its peak position at #10 on the Billboard 200, and #1 on the R&B album chart in 1977.

Now “Float On” is quite considered a classic on its own. The song (and most especially the group’s performance of it) has been ridiculed as well as it has been covered, and parodied. Among the ones who have covered/spoofed the song include Cheech and Chong (“Bloat On”), R&B group Full Force, and hip-hop group Stetsasonic. The song was also sampled by Canadian hip hop act Dream Warriors. Even Sesame Street parodies the Floaters in one of the show’s now-classic skits, “Gimme Five.”


The group’s later singles and disbandment

The Floaters’ next singles, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (#28 R&B, 1977), and “I Just Want to Be with You” (#36 R&B) were undoubtedly better than their biggest hit. However, the Floaters weren’t able to duplicate the success of “Float On” and go beyond their later chart performance. The Floaters split in 1982.