Float On

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Date Aired
March 31st, 2014
Running Time
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Todd plays "Float On" on his piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Modest Mouse.

Video for "Float On"
Modest Mouse: All right, all ready
We'll all float on
All right

Todd (VO): I don't think it's unfair to say that "Float On" by Modest Mouse is one of my favorite songs of all time. I feel like my life was changed the first time I heard it, and that it ever charted in the Hot 100 at all was, in itself, remarkable. I had never listened to Modest Mouse before then, but I knew them by reputation, and I considered them basically the epitome of a band you would never, ever hear on the radio ever.

Todd: "But wait," I hear some of you asking, "would you really count Modest Mouse as a one-hit wonder?"

Todd (VO): Sure, they only had one song that cracked the Hot 100, but by the same metric, Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa would be one-hit wonders. And usually, the term signifies not just limited chart success, but also relevance and influence; [Various clips of Modest Mouse performances] and Modest Mouse are indie rock legends with tons of fans and critical acclaim up the yin-yang, not to mention [brief clip of "Ocean Breathes Salty"] several other songs that made it onto the Alternative charts.

Todd: "So, given all that," you may ask, "is it really fair to call Modest Mouse one-hit wonders?" And my answer to that question is...no.

Record scratches, switching to "Float On" by the Floaters
Floaters: Float, float on
Ralph Mitchell: Come on, come on, come on

Todd: April Fools, bitches! Yes, today, we are not...

Todd (VO): ...looking at any song that people remember or care about. No, I'm sick of doing those. After all, there is so much weird and wonderful that no one remembers at all, and folks, we got a ripe slice of 70s cheese today.

Todd: Yes, the "Float On" we will be covering is not the indie rock song from 2004...

Todd (VO): ...but instead, the R&B smash from 1977 by—get this, no joke—[album cover of Float On: The Best of the Floaters] the Floaters.

Todd: Yes, [picture of a toilet] the Floaters.

Todd (VO): I assume, in 1977, that wasn't a slang term for an [picture of Baby Ruth] unpleasant surprise in the pool, but trust me, if there was any song that deserved to be accidentally associated with turds, it's this one. There's a reason this one doesn't get played on the oldies stations, and I'm gonna walk you through it.

Todd: So even if you don't know this one, please keep watching 'cause this is an amazing song. And, uh...well, let's take a look. All right, all ready...yeah, no Modest Mouse episode, deal with it.

Paul Mitchell: Mmm...

Before the hit

Todd: Ladies and gentlemen, the Detroit Emeralds!

Live performance of "You Want It, You Got It"

Todd (VO): Yes, before we look at the Floaters, we gotta look at its predecessor with the far less embarrassing name. These are the fabulous [picture of...] Tilmon brothers: [arrows pointing where appropriate] Ivory, Abrim, Raymond (not pictured), and Cleophus (also not pictured). What, we don't have a picture of the last two? Okay, apparently, they left the band early on and were replaced by their friend James Mitchell.

Todd: I wanted to see what a guy named Cleophus looked like.

Todd (VO): Anyway, the Detroit Emeralds were formed in the mid-60s deep in the heart of the Motor City, [picture of...] Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm gonna assume they were just the Emeralds before they moved to Detroit. Now presumably, they moved there in an attempt to get signed by Motown, [clip of live performance by the Supremes] but they were out of luck because Motown moved to LA shortly thereafter, which left a whole lot of musical talent in the Detroit scene kinda stranded. [Clip of the Ohio Players performance] But there were a few labels left who did try to fill the gap, and one of them was the one the Emeralds got signed to: [album cover of The Original Eight Mile] Westbound Records. Westbound did a lot of impressive work, helping to build up funk music, mostly with acts like the Ohio Players and Funkadelic.

The Emeralds were a lesser, but reliable group who'd charted on the R&B charts a bunch of times, though on the Hot 100, they never cracked the Top 20.

Clip of "Feel the Need In Me"

James Mitchell: Just put your hand in mine
Love me all the time
The proof you will plainly see
Feel the need
Feel the need

Todd (VO): This is "Feel the Need in Me", which is their best-remembered song because it was actually a pretty decent-sized hit in the UK, and also because of an unauthorized extended remix in [picture of...] the gay disco scene. They didn't see that coming. But internal struggles tore the band apart before they could capitalize on it. So naturally, some members started looking for other projects, and they also started their own nightclub, the Emerald Lounge, and James Mitchell started using it to find talent for a new group, including his brother Paul...

Todd: ...and he also wrote a wonderful song for them.

The big hit

Video for "Float On"

Todd (VO): In the brief clips I've shown so far, I don't think it...

Todd: ...really comes across why "Float On" is so amazing. Well, hold on, I haven't even introduced the members of the band yet. Fellas?

Ralph Mitchell: Aquarius, and my name is Ralph
Now I like a woman who loves her freedom

Todd: Go on.

Ralph: And if you fit that description, baby, come with me

Todd: Well, I am a woman who loves her freedom, so I guess I could take your hand. But I love my freedom a little too much to do that.

Ralph: Take my hand, come with me, baby, to Love Land

Todd (VO): Yes, in case you thought Anchorman was a parody of the 70s, now you know there was, in fact, a time when guys could plausibly say in public, "let me take you to Love Land." I assume they mean the [picture of...] Loveland Ski Resort in Colorado, which I hear is nice.

Ralph: I want you to
Floaters: Float, float on
Ralph: Come on...

Todd (VO): I'm not sure what "floating on" has to do with anything. I've read "Float On" was originally meant to be mostly an instrumental and the verses were written spontaneously as a last-minute change.

Todd: So in its original context, "Float On" would make sense...

Todd (VO): ...because the lush orchestra certainly does give off the impression of floating on air. But now with the verses, it makes it seem like it's telling you that if you didn't like the last guy, well, just float on to the next one because...

Todd: ...yes, all four of them do this.

Charles Clark: Libra, and my name is Charles

Todd: Hi, Charles.

Charles: Now I like a woman that's quiet

Todd: [translation...] Shut up, ladies.

Charles: A woman who carries herself
Like Miss Universe

Todd (VO): Yeah, basically, it's just this. They're all just basically reading their OkCupid profile at you, except they only filled out the spaces labelled "name", "sign" and "looking for". And I like that they think there's any difference between them. They're all basically saying the same thing. I also like that they introduce themselves with their zodiac sign before they even tell you their name.

Paul: Leo, and my name is Paul

Todd (VO): I mean, I know there was a running cliche about the Leisure Suit Larrys of the world using [sleazy lizard meme reading, "hey girl..."] "what's your sign?" as a pickup line; I just didn't know that was a real thing that actually happened. Were horoscopes that big back then? Dumb.

Paul: Leo, and my name is Paul
You see, I like all women of the world

Todd: [translation...] I have no standards.

Paul: Come with me, baby, to Love Land

Todd (VO): And when I said they all do the same shtick, that is literally all they do. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus. There's no instrumental or solo or bridge or middle eight or anything. It doesn't wear out as quickly as you'd think, but it does definitely wear out. Did I mention the album version of this is eleven minutes long?

Todd: Fortunately, they saved the best for last.

Larry Cunningham: Cancer, and my name is Larry

Todd: [starting to laugh] Hi, Larry.

Larry: And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody

Todd: [translation...] I kinda need a woman who isn't that choosy, if you get me.

Todd (VO): But no, that's not the amazing part. This is what makes Larry my pick.

Larry: Take my hand
Let me take you to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing your love with Larry, listen

Todd: I like a woman who is not turned off by when Larry refers to himself in the third person. Oh, Larry.

Floaters: Float, float on
Larry: Yeah...

Todd (VO): There was also actually a [picture of the Floaters with...] fifth member; who the hell knows what happened to him? I think I read he was sick.

Todd: It's a shame, we'll never know what sign he was.

Floaters: Float, float on

Todd: Did I mention this hit #2? And it was #1 in the UK. Yes, as you can imagine, this was a difficult song to follow up on.

The failed follow-up

Todd: Now, I could sit here and talk about "Float On" all day. Oh, by the way, did you know Cheech & Chong did a parody called "Bloat On"?

Single cover of "Bloat On" featuring the Bloaters
Big Boy: Hamburger, and my name is Big Boy
And I love a hamburger that's nice and juicy
A hamburger that gets on everything and everybody

Todd: Ha ha, it's an easy song to parody. But I am obligated to cover the rest of their career, so here is their follow-up: [single cover of...] a cover of blue-eyed soul legend Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me".

Performance of original
Dusty Springfield: You said you would always stay

Todd (VO): Now, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" is a classic, tragic love song about wanting more but settling for less, where the singer pledges her undying loyalty even as she accepts the disappointment of knowing that her feelings are no longer shared and she'll have to be satisfied with scraps.

Dusty: You don't have to say you love me
Just be close at hand

Todd (VO): And though Ms. Springfield can be very subtle and sultry and understated, as you can tell, this is a very big, showy, almost operatic song. In fact, it was originally in Italian and was translated into English for Dusty.

Todd: So it's a big song that needs a very powerful force behind it, which is why both [clip of performance by latter of...] Cher and Elvis took a stab at it. This is not a song to be covered lightly. Let's see how the Floaters tackle it.

Live performance dubbed over with "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"
Paul: Baby, you know, I can't believe that you're not here

Todd: Ah, yes, I see they've added the old embarrassing spoken monologue.

Paul: I've got to find you
Wherever you are, I want you to come back
I, I...I need you, baby

Todd: I always said that Boyz II Men took this trope to the very pinnacle of humiliating hilarity, but this is up there.

Ralph: When I said, girl, I needed you

Todd: There we go, straight into the falsetto.

Ralph: You don't have to say you love me
But just be close at hand

Todd (VO): I think my love of Prince may have kinda ruined this kind of singing for me.

Clip of Prince - "Kiss"
Prince: U got to not talk dirty, baby

Todd: When I hear this falsetto, I only hear an oversexed horn dog.

Todd (VO): That could just be hindsight talking; there's a way to do this voice right, I'm sure. It's just not whatever Aquarius is doing there.

Ralph: Left alone with just a memory

Todd: This scraped onto the R&B charts, but that was pretty much the last time anyone heard anything from the Floaters. They got flushed, you might say.

Did they ever do anything else?

Clip of performance on Soul Train

Todd (VO): The Floaters released two more albums in the 70s, and another in 1981 where they apparently acquired a [album cover of Get Ready For The Floaters & Shu-Ga] female member. Capricorn, and her name was Shu-Ga. But none of them ever really got anywhere. It may just have been an overcrowded market. I've said this before, but the 70s did not lack for good soul music.

Todd: If you like any of the Floaters' songs, you could find fifty songs at least as good released that same week.

Todd (VO): It may also be that funk and disco was taking over there at the end of the 70s, so more old school soul like the Floaters were getting kinda squeezed out. [Album cover of Magic] Now they did try their hand at disco on their second album, but it didn't really take.

Todd: And they also tried their hand at funk.

Album cover of Float Into the Future, as "Levitation" plays

Todd (VO): But yeah, this is just a weak ripoff of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground", so it didn't take either.

Todd: Yeah, I didn't really find a lot of things worth exploring there. So instead...

Clip of "Gimme Five" by...

Todd (VO): ...I'd like to share with you another parody, this time from the original non-Muppet cast members of Sesame Street.

Gordon Robinson: Hi. This is Gordon speaking, and I just love a number that's the same as my fingers. You see, I got five fingers on this hand, that's five.

Todd: Aw. The only thing that's missing is Mr. Hooper.

Lovers of Five: Gimme one, two, three, four
But if you love me more, gimme five

Did they deserve better?

Todd just laughs at the thought

Floaters: Float, float on

Todd (VO): "Float On" has not aged well. Well, I say it hasn't aged well, but I don't know if it was taken all that seriously even in 1977. Their other songs were far less embarrassing, but this one is definitely the most interesting and fun to listen to. And I'll say this too: Even though "Float On" is a phenomenally silly song and definitely not something you want to hear very often, I definitely prefer its type of faux-smooth, cheese-ball loverman shtick to the more modern R&B guys, who are just douchebags. I might put on a neon aquamarine tux and try it myself.

Todd: Gemini, and my name is Todd, and I like a woman who doesn't care what I look like, and is okay with me never leaving the house. And if you fit that description, baby, well...email me? I've never set up a public email. I should get on that.

Gets up and leaves

Video ends

Closing tag song: Stetsasonic - "Float On"

"Float On" is owned by ABC Records
This video is owned by me

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