We all remember “Float On” by the Floaters, that four- (and sometimes five)-man group out of Northeast Detroit who wowed us with one of the smoothest songs in soul music history.
It was one of the cheesiest love ballads in a decade full of cheese (the ‘70s). Never before or since had a song’s sole premise been to feature four guys with come-on lines built around their zodiac signs and what they liked in a woman.
Or maybe more accurately, there had never been come-on lines so preposterous and corny, yet so irresistible and endearing as the four that each member of the Floaters put down on wax in 1977’s unlikely smash single “Float On.”
“Float On” by the Floaters featured those smooth cats Ralph the Aquarius, Charles the Libra, Paul the Leo, and then…
“Cancer! and my name is Larry.”
Larry was Larry Cunningham, one of the group’s founders who passed away in Arizona last week after a long undisclosed illness. He was 67.
With the possible exception of Charles’ falsetto on his own chorus, Larry had the most unforgettable performance on “Float On”; he certainly had the most memorable opening line in his verse.
“Cancer! and my name is Larry,” he boasted. The boldness of his delivery instantly got our attention and was enough to melt the hearts of ladies nationwide. It also must have made the song’s writers and producers glad Larry wasn’t born two days earlier. Can you imagine trying to work “Gemini” into that line?
“Cancer!” worked perfectly. And even though things went south from there with his follow-up line (as it did for all the members), you knew from the time you heard it that Larry, indiscriminate as he may have been, would have the best chance of the four to leave the party (or whatever the proverbial setting was) with lady in tow.
Indeed Larry was all encompassing. As he put it so soulfully in the unedited album version, “I like a woman that loves everything and everybody, because I love everybody and everything.”
Did you catch the switch-up? Was there anything more profound?
It was Larry’s chorus, though, that took us to the finish: “Take my hand, let me take you to Loveland. Let me show you how sweet it could be-eee. Sharing your love with Larry, listen!”
“Float, Float on!”
Larry and his pals delivered their lines so effectively and so seriously, one had to wonder whether they knew of their campiness. But soul music fans – this writer (eleven years old at the time) included – loved it! We ate it up like gummy bears and sent “Float On” straight to Number One soul in the summer of 1977.
The song‘s undeniable appeal also propelled it to cross over to the pop charts that year, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 while stuck behind two different No. 1s (ironically, the two biggest pop hits of 1977: Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” and the Emotions “Best Of My Love”).
The Floaters self-titled début album, which featured a nearly 12-minute version of the song (actually an unimaginative mix split between the six-minute instrumental track followed by the six-minute song with vocals), also crossed into the pop top ten and went platinum.
Not only was “Float On” one of the most unlikely hits of 1977, with its success owed to two radio station deejays (one in Cleveland, the other in New York) who took a chance in spinning the record, but it also became the biggest soul hit of the year, topping Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart for seven straight weeks and finishing atop the magazine’s year-end ranking ahead of classics like Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up,” the Emotions’ “Best Of My Love,” Natalie Cole’s “I Got Love On My Mind,” Barry White’s “It’s Ecstasy” and Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23.”
That’s some heady competition to beat, especially considering all of those songs’ legacies have continued to grow over the decades while “Float On” languishes as a punchline in most old-school music circles.
Sadly, “Float On” would be it as far as big hits went for the Floaters (who were known as the Detroit Emeralds when they got their start in 1976). Their label ABC Records was bought out by MCA in 1978 and the group never got the backing it did with “Float On.”
But, despite its easy target status today, no one could deny the success of “Float On” back then, with its irresistible groove and ascending four-note melody throughout. And those dreamy keyboard flourishes underneath the groove? It almost made you feel like you were entering a love fantasy happening somewhere in outer space.
But it was the four members of the Floaters whose vocals and cheesy lines carried the day, with each singer’s verse and chorus letting their distinctive personalities come through, much to the delight of astrology followers everywhere.
It was Larry Cunningham’s, though, that many “Float On” fans remembered the most, and his passing on January 10 in Tucson, AZ was a sad loss indeed.
R.I.P. and float on to the heavens Larry Cunningham (June 23, 1951 – January 10, 2019).