4
Jul 08

THE FLOATERS – “Float On”

FT + Popular38 comments • 4,384 views

#411, 27th August 1977

The format of “Float On” – each Floater steps forward, makes his pitch, retires beckoning – doesn’t just anticipate Blind Date, it’s also a basic formula for early group hip-hop: every member trying to outdo the last. For my money, the winning Floater here is surely Larry, largely for his magnificently self-confident use of the third-person. But your floatage may vary, and really there’s only one way to sort this one out:

LADIES! (and others) Which Floater does it for YOU?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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I’ll leave the comments box to speculate on the real motivations behind each of these preferences.

“Float On” stands up to more listens than you’d imagine, though still not enough to get it beyond ‘kind of charming’. The audacious novelty concept wears out, as novelties do, but the good-natured, bubbling music does exactly what it says on the title. How true a portrayal of seductive Seventies Man this was I have no idea, but “Float On” is amazingly evocative of a perceived era, one built up in the childish imagination by old menswear adverts and past-your-bedtime TV shows, half-understood. Amiably preposterous.

4

Comments

  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Reading your critique of this single gives me much greater than listening to the actual thing itself does, Tom!

    Also, I always feel short changed by the absence of 8 signs of the zodiac. If your going to start out on a project like this, then you might as well see the thing through to it’s logical conclusion. Though that would result in this going on for about 9 minutes, sung by 12 Floaters…

    Not a favourite song, I’m afraid.

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    “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…”

    It sounds like outtakes from a Des Moines in-house video dating agency. It teeters dangerously on the tightrope of tack, but its modes will be depressingly familiar to anyone cognisant of contemporary R&B, even though its camp factor enables it to fly far beyond those particular boundaries.

    “Libra…And my name is Charles…Now I like a woman that’s quite…A woman who carries herself like…Miss Universe…”

    The Floaters were lucky to get their one moment. An otherwise run-of-the-mill Detroit soul group, their full-length album version of “Float On” lasts for some eleven minutes, and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” it’s not; but a New York DJ picked up on the track, and the heavily-edited single was an unexpectedly huge transatlantic hit; but note the gender divide making itself apparent – where Donna Summer is satisfied and in full control, the Floaters parade themselves so shamelessly they might as well have bells hanging around their necks.

    “Leo…And my name is Paul…You see I like…all…women of the world…”

    Over a quite compelling slow-motion psychedelic soul backdrop – like Barry White hijacking a Thom Bell session – each Floater takes it in turn to give their star sign, name and ovular preferences before swooping into dreamy soul tenors or falsettos, maintaining the is-it-still-’67 mood (“Come with me baby to Love Land”). You are daring their faces to remain straight…and then the camp bucket tips over a little too steeply…

    “CAYN-CER! AND MA NAME IS LA-RRRR-Y!! HA! AN’ I LIKE A WOMAN THAT LURVES EVERY-THANG AND EVERY-BAWDY!!”

    Even so, you continue to tag along for the ride with the swirling Zawinul electric piano and distant Paul Horn flutes as they echo “Float, float, float on” before the whole thing dissolves quite marvellously into atonal atomisation – the last 30 seconds or so of the record sound like early Penderecki. “Float On” is camper than the Ayrshire coast during Glasgow Fair Fortnight, and it should rightly lie beyond the pale of irretrievable naffness; and yet there is a rather admirable tug on its sleeve towards the melting paradises of early Stylistics and Love Unlimited which makes me warm to the record, virtually in spite of itself.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Urgh – sorry but I found it nauseating then, and if I find it less objectionable now it’s largely because it isn’t number one and all over the radio. It’s a genre I can pretty well put up with, but as a novelty it wears out very quickly. The word “Floater” carries different associations in different countries – in Australia, particularly in Adelaide, it’s a meat pie covered in tomato sauce sitting in a plate of pea soup, whereas in this country it’s something you wouldn’t want alongside you in the bath. Guess which one this record brings to mind?

    If you’ve got both the Guinness 500 Number Ones book and the Kutner/Leigh 1000 Number Ones book, the respective entries for this record illustrate just hom much better the latter is. Kutner/Leigh dig out the history of the track and the band; GRRR make a few lame gags about the lyrics. Mind you I did like this one: “Ralph (Aquarius) likes a woman who can hold her own. Many Aquarians also like women who can buy their own.”

  4. 4
    vinylscot on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Before I put all my thought on this in order, could I just say (before anyone else does) that this is probably the second-best song ever to feature the line “My Name Is Larry”.

  5. 5
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    The best one can be found if you go to Rhino Records.

  6. 6
    vinylscot on 4 Jul 2008 #

    I’d have put money on you knowing that one, Marcello.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Re 1: Should read “Gives me much greater pleasure”, of course… Sorry!

  8. 8
    Waldo on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Aries…and my name is Waldo.

    As was certainly the case with Bodie and Doyle, what struck me most about this piece of lunacy was my clear belief that despite The Floaters’ vainglorious proclaimations that they were all roaring hetro types, each in a position to cherry-pick their quality female lovers, these four boys were, in reality, all total screamers. Crafty Butchers, if you will. This was particularly apparent in the comically lisping “Charles” (Libra), whose claimed preference for a woman who “carries herself like Miss Universe” is simply not credible when it come from a lad who sounds like an unholy cross between Mike Tyson and John Inman.

    So gay, man. Jesus.

  9. 9
    Drucius on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Hated it. Hated it so much I wanted to tie them up in their acquamarine tuxedos, stuff their faux-silk ruffled shirts into their gobs and beat them to death with their own platforms.

    Probably.

  10. 10
    rosie on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Leo…and my name is Rosie

    And I don’t much care for men who put themselves forward as super-macho types and expect me to come at their bidding. I like men with hidden depths.

    I kind of like the Float… Float on refrain – it’s strange and haunting in a way, and could be beautiful in a different context, but not this one I’m afraid. Float off, Floaters!

  11. 11
    vinylscot on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Zodiac signs seem to have been a big thing in the States at this time; I don’t think we really went for them quite so much over here (although Giogio Moroder’s other girl, Roberta Kelly did have her “Zodiac” hit a few months after this – and all 12 signs get a mention in it.)

    Anyway, we Capricorns don’t believe in this sort of thing!

    What got me about this single, even at the time, was the complete lack of (intentional) humour about the song and the performance, a point obviously picked up by the Barron Knights on their “Live In Trouble”, which I presume we are now allowed to talk about.

    The 12″ of this was an extended version of the 7″ (as opposed to the 7″ being an edit), and the non-vocal parts were actually not bad – rather lush, paint-by-numbers corporate 70s funk-lite. The vocal interjections were, probably to most in the UK anyway, amusing in a “Mouldy Old Dough” sort of way, lending the title to the song. At one point, only the star signs are spoken, obviously sampled from the song proper, and Larry’s disconnected roar of “CANCER” sounds even more ridiculous on its own, without its corny qualifiers.

    Now, looking back, it’s a rather endearing novelty; I still can’t work out why it was such a big hit. I’d like to have heard someone like Was Not Was, Sly and Robbie, or even George Clinton try this with humour and balls!

  12. 12
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    It’s a disgrace that the Barron Knights’ masterpiece “Get Down Shep” was not a hit.

  13. 13
    Erithian on 4 Jul 2008 #

    OK then, if you insist… “Taurus… and my name is Erithian.”

    Coolest use of a zodiac sign must be in Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool”: “Love your nails. You must be a Libra. Your place or mine?”

  14. 14
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Best zodiac-related record ever: the Zodiac album by Cosmic Sounds, Elektra ’68.

  15. 15
    Alan Connor on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Incomplete and half-remembered therefore possibly inaccurate Resurrection Watch: ISTR a Cadbury’s Creme Egg advert featuring a version where the astrological signs and requirements-of-a-lady were replaced by various different means by which one might eat one’s sweeties.

  16. 16
    Dan R on 4 Jul 2008 #

    This is a sickly-sweet syrup of a song. I must say people who go on about their star signs might as well be intoning “I’m a credulous idiot” over and over again.

    Quite like that ‘Jesus Was A Capricorn’, mind.

  17. 17
    Mark G on 4 Jul 2008 #

    True. (#15)

    But it was always more about the ‘intro and the outro’ version…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSzzQMXFYrY

  18. 18

    #16: yes but dan you’re a [insert sign here] so you would think that

    i’m a gemini (= flyweight flibbertigibbet) and i like a lady who’s all shapeshifting tomboy pirate witch-robot

  19. 19
    rosie on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Of course, the Floaters are another in the long line of American acts with unfortunate names to British ears. Ironically, though, this lot got a number one where more deserving acts failed to come close. Randy Newman springs instantly to mind, but there’s also my favourite misunderstanding, 60s soul smoothie Lou Rawls.

  20. 20
    SteveM on 4 Jul 2008 #

    I’d forgotten that Creme Egg advert – hurrah!

    Am assuming Stetsasonic’s ‘Float On’ over ten years later is a cover of sorts but I remember talk of an acid housey version around this time too.

  21. 21
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Randy Newman possibly one of those people that Britain just doesn’t “get” even though he has had numerous UK hits as a composer (chart peak: Gene Pitney’s “Nobody Needs Your Love (More Than I Do),” #2 in ’66) – “Short People” much played on Radio 1 in ’77 but not a hit here.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 4 Jul 2008 #

    Another memorable US take on astrology:
    Jim Morrison onstage during “An American Prayer”:

    “Listen, man, I don’t know how many o’ you people believe in astrology…”
    (squealing voices in crowd: Wooh, yeah Jim!)
    “Yeah, that’s right…that’s right, baby, I…I am a Sagittarius, the most philosophical of all the signs…”
    (squealing voices in crowd: Wooh, yeah!”)
    “But anyway, I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a bunch of bullshit, myself…”
    (slightly less enthusiastic voices in crowd: Wooh, er, yeah Jim…)

  23. 23
    DJ Punctum on 4 Jul 2008 #

    My mum is a Sagittarian and so was my first wife so don’t try it Jimbo.

  24. 24
    David Belbin on 4 Jul 2008 #

    The new Randy Newman album, ‘Harps and Angeld’, out in a few weeks, is very good. I don’t hear a hit on it though. Recently acquired ‘On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman’ which replaces much of the hard to find bootleg 4cd obscurities collection and includes classics by Harper’s Bizarre and Beverly (soon to be Beverly Martyn) and numerous others plus a few well known songs to sugar the pill for casual fans.

  25. 25
    Tez Burke on 4 Jul 2008 #

    May I be the first on here to comment that the Wikipedia non-fact about Larry “CANCER!” Cunningham auditioning to replace Peter Gabriel in Genesis has made it to the mainstream media, a la Ronnie Hazlehurst’s presumed authorship of S Club 7 hits. It appears Mr. Branson’s toy radio station uses the “copy any old cobblers from Wikipedia” method of research, though I’m intrigued as to how those other putative choices would have sounded in this universe rather than a parallel one.

  26. 26
    LondonLee on 5 Jul 2008 #

    If there’s such a thing as beautiful kitsch this is it. Incredibly silly song and camp as a row of tents, but smooth 70s soul harmonies like that could make ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ sound dreamy to me.

  27. 27
    Doctormod on 5 Jul 2008 #

    Um, hi–my name is Pat, but you can call me Doctor Mod (Pisces), and I like a lady who’s a hot femme with a brilliant mind, a good heart, and an over-the-top sense of humour (although I’ll admit that the “all shapeshifting tomboy pirate witch-robot” sounds like fun for a wild weekend. No–wait–I think that’s my ex. Not fun.

    That being said, this all makes me think of the DRoss Supremes’ (i.e., DR and the Andantes’) “No Matter What Sign You Are.” (“Capricorn!–Ow!–Scorpio–Yeah!–Taurus Gemini Virgo–Yeah Yeah Yeah!” and so on, convenient that Aquarius and Sagittarius rhyme) Not one of Motown’s greatest moments, I’m afraid. I hadn’t even thought of it in years until I read this thread.

    Randy Newman, you say? Indeed! “I’ve Been Wrong Before” is one stunning song.

  28. 28
    Doctormod on 5 Jul 2008 #

    Waldo, my dear–

    One doesn’t have to be gay to be campy.

    The Beatles were damned good at doing camp.

  29. 29
    Waldo on 5 Jul 2008 #

    Indeed yes, Doc. In fact “Waldo, My Dear” from the White Album was very camp indeed. Although I accept your general gay/campy point, I still say that The Floaters were floating down the wrong stream. Sorry, hun!

    Randy Newman was also into bear-baiting, of course.

  30. 30
    mike on 8 Jul 2008 #

    “Hi! I’m Mike, Aquarius, and guess what: I DON’T LIKE GIRLS!” (*)

    Yes, this was as camp as tits – and pretty much everyone who bought it was in on the joke, right? Er, right?

    (But also camp in its truest sense, as there was still an irreducible innocent sincerity at its core, however misguided.)

    (*) Mangled Barron Knights reference. Sorry, ladies. Luvyaloads.

  31. 31
    DJ Punctum on 8 Jul 2008 #

    It is easy to forget that Waldo had the honour of having an entire Beatles album – a double album, no less – written about him, commonly known as The Waldo Album and containing such classics as “Glass Waldo,” “While My Waldo Gently Weeps,” “Waldo #9,” “Why Don’t We Do Waldo In The Road,” “Happiness Is A Warm Waldo” and fill in the rest yourselves.

  32. 32
    Waldo on 9 Jul 2008 #

    Why thank-you kindly, Marcello. Yes, the lads indeed honoured me (then 7) with “The Waldo Album”. I don’t usually talk about it…

    But since you insist, there was also “Waldo Truffle”, “Yer Waldo”, “Waldo Raccoon”, “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Waldo” and “Helter Waldo”, which, of course, became infamous through no fault of its own.

  33. 33
    Erithian on 9 Jul 2008 #

    Now, I’ve noticed a tendency for this thread to get rather silly. Now I do my best to keep things moving along, but I’m not having things getting silly. Those two last posts were very silly indeed. I mean, next thing you know we’ll be talking about Pink Floyd’s The Waldo.

  34. 34
    DJ Punctum on 9 Jul 2008 #

    SPOILER BUNNY ALERT

    Anyway, I already told you in the first verse.

  35. 35
    Waldo on 9 Jul 2008 #

    # 33 – “Those two last posts were very silly indeed.”

    No, no, Erithian. “Silly Waldo Songs” Paul wrote for me much later. And it was Wings not The Beatles.

    Anyway, I need a certain song…

  36. 36
    intothefireuk on 9 Jul 2008 #

    I think we can ascertain from their demeanour that these guys were/are still firmly in the closet. Ridiculous record although I have a soft spot for the backing track and occasional soulful vocal flourishes. All the same….

  37. 37
    DanH on 9 Mar 2014 #

    This was #2 in the States, but it seems like one of those songs that this country (and probably the U.K.) collectively wiped from memory. Even “FEEEEEELIIIINGS” was frequently cited on ‘worst songs ever’ lists and jokes, this one isn’t even brought up (exception: a long time ago I did see a site of Bad ’70s Songs call this song ‘so bad it almost justifies racism’). I never had heard the song until I was perusing British #1’s. It’s awful, tacky, almost something you’d come up with half-awake at 6AM…the story goes the the writer came up with this in a dream, so there ya go. And I grin like an idiot every time I hear it.

    Even Sesame Street caught wind of this song at the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dlgiritpmfo :-)

  38. 38
    mapman132 on 22 Jul 2014 #

    #37 I never knowingly heard this song until now either even though I recognized it from the list of 70’s one hit wonders. It seems like a classic example of a novelty song: guaranteed to be huge for a brief moment and then quickly discarded as an embarrassment never to be spoken of again. That being said, it’s too amusing for me to hate. I’d have to give it at least 5/10.

    Thanks for the Youtube clip too. Don’t remember that one even though I was very much part of the Sesame Street audience at the time.

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