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.”

Song Highlights

  • Float On 

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell / Marvin Willis

  • I Just Want to Be with You
  • You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
  • Magic (We Thank You)
  • I Am So Glad I Took My Time

Marvin Willis

  • Take One Step at a Time

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell, Jr. / Marvin Willis

  • No Stronger Love

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell, Jr. / Marvin Willis

  • I Bet You Get the One You Love

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell, Jr.

  • Got to Find a Way

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell, Jr. / Marvin Willis

  • Everything Happens for a Reason

Arnold Ingram / James Mitchell, Jr.

  • L.A. Magic
  • The Best of Our Love
  • Woman Love/You Are My Lady
  • Brand New Lite
  • Go Down to the Disco
  • Levitation
  • Made up My Mind
  • Nice to Have You Back

Raymond A. Crossley / Curtis Anthony Nolen

Formation in Eugene: Sink & Glyph (1993-1997)

In the first decade of the 1990s, Peter Cornett and Robert Wynia founded the band Floater in Eugene, Oregon. They founded The Dog’s after quitting their prior group, Henry’s Child, then changed their band’s name to Floater in 1993. The group created a demo tape, which caught the attention of independent record company Elemental and resulted in the publication of Sink, the group’s debut full-length album, in 1994. The 1995 publication of their second album, Glyph, helped them gain more recognition in the Pacific Northwest. “The Sad Ballad of Danny Boy” by Floater had exposure on the Z Rock radio network, which went out of business in late 1996. The band nonetheless managed to sell 21,000 copies of Sink and Glyph combined, and they were nominated for Grammys despite this setback. They were also well-liked at well-known locations including Portland’s La Luna and the Crystal Ballroom, Eugene’s WOW Hall, and La Luna in Eugene.

Wings to Portland – Angels In the Flesh.. / Burning Sosobra (1998 -2001)

The band relocated to Portland, Oregon, where they have been ever since, just before Floater released their third album, Angels in the Flesh and Devils in the Bone, in May 1998. With the publication of Angels, the band’s music underwent a modest alteration at the same time. The album is notable for the college radio song “Mexican Bus,” which was featured in an article from The Rocket as the band was prepared to “ditch some of [their more rude fans]”. big labels, notably Zoo Records, had been interested in Floater before and throughout this period, but no big label would sign them.

Burning Sosobra, which was published in September 2000, signaled a change in Floater’s previously well-known approach to the usage of samples. The band started making most of the sounds on its albums themselves rather than using clips from movies and television. The burning effigy on the album cover served as a metaphor for the burdens that Burning Sosobra allowed Floater to shed. After firing questionable management and starting to work with Cassandra Thorpe, who acquired Elemental Records on September 9, 1999, Floater entered a new era with Sosobra. In order to create the sculpture seen on the cover, Mark Orme and Floater worked together. Burning Sosobra’s “Exiled” is regarded as the band’s first single. The Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun,” a cover, and “Independence Day” are other noteworthy songs.

Floater image

Alter & Acoustics (2002-2006)

Throughout the late 1990s, Floater experimented with acoustic in-store performances, but it wasn’t until their New Year’s Eve performance in 2000/2001 at the Aladdin Theater that they started incorporating full acoustic sets into their shows. On their second live CD, Live at the Aladdin, a portion of the Aladdin performance would be made available. Alter, Floater’s fifth full-length album was subsequently released in July 2002. The album was cited as a starting point for changing their sound, however, the change was noticeably less than anticipated. The emphasis on strong riffs was replaced with a well-rounded and varied sound in Floater’s music.

Acoustics, the band’s 2004 album, is the result of their sonic research. A surge in acoustic concerts overseas would follow this. Floater frequently performs back-to-back concerts that alternate between an electric and an acoustic set.

Stone By Stone (2006 to 2008)

The most well-received album by Floater to date is Stone By Stone, which was released in 2006. The single from the album, “An Apology,” has lyrical content that suggests a sarcastic apology: as one eye looks to the future and the other to the past. The album combined an older, more recognizable Floater sound in “An Apology” with new creativity infused in songs like “Weightless,” “Breakdown,” and “Tonight No One Knows.” Additionally, the record heralds a period of heightened effort to tour further and more frequently throughout the western United States. In other towns, such as The Showbox in Seattle, Washington, and the McDonald Theatre in Eugene, Oregon, Floater has grown significantly and has begun performing in larger venues. Along with their tours through Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California, they also started performing in additional cities.

Wake – Setting a new course (2009 to present)

Floater began work on their eighth full-length album recording in 2009. The Stone By Stone sessions were used to record some of the songs that were anticipated to be on the future album.

By this point, Alex Steininger had been appointed as Floater’s new manager. The band made it a goal to become well-known on a national level. Wake, the eighth studio album by Floater, was released in 2010 and was entirely self-funded. Both Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury gave the album both favorable and unfavorable reviews. As seen by Floater’s appearances on PDXposed and OPB’s Live Wire program, Steininger’s impact is already apparent.

Before recording their ninth album, the band changed drummers. On December 31, 2017, Mark Powers took Pete Cornett’s place as he made his stage debut at Portland’s Star Theater. After an 8-year hiatus, Floater released their ninth album, The Thief, in May 2018. This album also includes a Powers song. In the 2018 “Best of Portland Reader’s Poll” conducted by Willamette Week, Floater was named Best Local Musician/Musical Group.

The band’s original drummer, Peter Cornett, went dead, it was discovered on November 20, 2021.

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.

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