We all know that TLC conquered the music industry throughout the 1990s, going on to earn the title of being the biggest selling US girl group of all time. A title they still own today.
Although T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli dominated the charts worldwide with smash hits such as “Waterfalls”, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty”, it is easy to forget that this iconic trio produced some of the most hard-hitting songs that didn’t become singles, but are present on all 5 of their amazing studio albums.
Whilst we sit and hope this spurs the ladies to do a tour of their album tracks for their die-hard fans, here’s a rundown of 21 of their best non-single tracks, with some reviews by The BoomBox. In no specific order:
1. “Switch”, CrazySexyCool (1994)
“Switch” is the ultimate proof that there ain’t no party like a TLC party. With Jean Wright’s “Mr. Big Stuff” guitar riff sample leading the way, feminist heroes T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli let it be known that girls just wanna have fun and not every single gal strives to be in a committed relationship. “Switch” was produced by Jermaine Dupri, the guy who suggested T-Boz should sing in her iconic lower register!
2. “This Is How It Works”, Waiting To Exhale (1995)
Recorded exclusively for Whitney Houston’s Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, “This Is How It Works” is essentially sex education for grown ups, complete with a specific step-by-step tutorial! Written and produced by their label boss Babyface and Left Eye, who adds a seductive rap which serves as icing on the cake!
3. “Sumthin Wicked This Way Comes” (feat André 3000), CrazySexyCool (1994)
TLC’s CrazySexyCool remains the best-selling album by a girl group, achieving a diamond-selling status in the US. The albums closer contains Left Eye’s most poignant verse after “Waterfalls” and a verse by Outkast‘s Andre 3000. The Organized Noize-produced track critiques the then-current state of the world, but the lyrics still ring true today. “I just don’t understand / The ways of the world today / Sometimes I feel / Like there’s nothing to live for / So I’m longing for the days of yesterday“.
4. “My Life”, Fanmail (1999)
Part of what made TLC unstoppable in their heyday was their audacity to live by their own rules. “My Life,” which reunites them with producer Jermaine Dupri, is TLC’s legacy in a nutshell, and Left Eye’s rap takes it to new heights as she spits an epic verse that gives listeners a glimpse into her upbringing. To this day, superfans can’t seem to wrap their heads around why this track was never released as a single.
5. “His Story”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)
TLC has never been afraid of touching on sensitive topics in thier music. As explained by Left Eye in the intro, this song is partly inspired by Tawana Brawley, an African-American teenager who alleged in 1987 that four white men had raped her. “His Story” is a tale about toxic masculinity and the women whose sexual assault and harassment allegations are too easily dismissed by society.
6. “Kick Your Game”, CrazySexyCool (1994)
TLC’s chemistry is undeniable on “Kick Your Game,” and it’s one of the few instances where Jermaine Dupri and the trio join forces to create a funky groove for the ages. Left Eye creatively raps as her love interest conversing with herself, whilst T-Boz and Chilli ooze their effortless sex appeal on the verses. This was almost made a single after “Diggin On You”. The music video would have been amazing.
7. “American Gold”, TLC (2017)
“American Gold” may appear a proclamation of traditional patriotism, but in reality, there are several subtle commentaries on the country imbued within the lyrics. In reality, it’s an anthem for the marginalized, a rallying cry to take back the country that may have abandoned them. T-Boz’s brother Kayo takes on the role of producer on this single-worthy anthem. “I cry for the ones I lost/ I pray for the ones that don’t/ I’m bleeding on American soil/ I’m bleeding this American Gold“.
8. “So So Dumb”, 3D (2002)
TLC teams up with the talented singer, songwriter and producer Raphael Saadiq (of the group Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl) on this mellow tale of an unfaithful man that the girls are warning off, threatening to expose him to his wife! Saadiq actually worked with Left Eye on other tracks that didn’t make the album, but fans are hoping to hear them one day.
9. “Case Of The Fake People”, CrazySexyCool (1994)
Taking influences from the O’Jays’ 1972 smash hit “Back Stabbers,” TLC’s “Case of the Fake People” is a classy send-off to all the opportunists out there, and it comes with a certain level of wisdom that’s expected on a sophomore project.
10. “Im Good At Being Bad”, Fanmail (1999)
Built around a sample of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” the track opens with soft strings and lovey-dovey lines about sunny days, birds chirping and long, romantic walks on the beach. Then, without warning, a ferocious beat drops and the ladies of TLC reveal their raunchy fantasies, taking a page straight out of Lil’ Kim’s book. For nearly five explicit minutes, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli spell out exactly what they expect in the bedroom. Legendary producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis laced the track, which would be why fans noticed the similarities between this song and Janet Jackson‘s “What About”. Initial pressings feature an interpolation of Donna Summer‘s 1975 disco hit, “Love to Love You Baby”, which she had removed after hearing the song’s lyrical content. Whoops.
11. “Joy Ride”, TLC (2017)
T-Boz and Chilli get sentimental on the closing number of their final album. “Thank you for stayin’ by my side / Hope you all enjoy the ride,” sing the two surviving TLC members on the chorus of “Joyride,” which serves as a bittersweet ending to the group’s remarkable comeback album after 15 years.
12. “Automatic”, Fanmail (1999)
A handful of the tracks on FanMail predicted the future in the most uncanny way with dial-up sounds and a recurring android character named Vic-E. On the futuristic “Automatic,” the girls sing about getting revenge on someone who did them wrong in a relationship. This track was later used as the opening theme to their hit VH1 biopic ‘CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story‘ in 2013.
13. “Depend On Myself”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)
On the set’s penultimate track, the threesome boast about being independent and in control of their own lives after some trifling dude tries desperately to win them over by promising to take care of them financially.
14. “Let’s Do It Again”, CrazySexyCool (1994)
“You sexy thang you / Whatever it is you want from me you know I’ll satisfy/ Just keep the love at home,” T-Boz purrs in the first verse of this slow jam, produced by JonJohn Robinson. The tension rises during the bridge, with T-Boz and Chilli alternating their lines sensually, easily the highlight of the track.
15. “Silly Ho”, Fanmail (1999)
Initially released as a promo late in 1998 to drum up attention to the forthcoming album and it’s official lead single, “No Scrubs”, “Silly Ho” is a sharp and catchy club anthem, led by T-Boz setting the record straight and making it clear she will not “be no chickenhead/ to wake up in your bed/ let the other girls want you“. Produced by Dallas Austin under the alias of Cyptron, it features a rap by virtual Vic-E in the absence of Left Eye, who wasn’t co-operating with a lot of the album’s recording at the time.
16. “Das Da Way We Like ‘Em”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)
This is the first and last time we get to witness T-Boz and Chilli join Left Eye’s lane by displaying their rapping skills on a track. They did pretty good, and with many artists rapping and singing lately we think the girls should have tried rapping more often. They all have a verse each to rap about the type of man they are looking for, before ending the song with a ton of high energy shout outs to their friends and mothers. And that is… ooooooohhh on the TLC tip!
17. “Fanmail”, Fanmail (1999)
The opening track named after the album acts as a love letter to the fans. Vic-E opens the song by thanking fans for their support over the years, before TLC get personal with their listeners, reassuring them that “just like you, I get lonely too“. Years later the impact of this song is still felt, with Drake recording a cover in 2010, simply titled “I Get Lonely Too”.
18. “Aye Muthafucka”, TLC (2017)
TLC are reunited with “Waterfalls” hitmaker Marqueze Ethridge on this track from their self-titled album. The girls set a scrub straight who no longer deserves their affection or attention. “I just tell you things I want you to know/
I cannot with you, I done done this before“. The catchy lyrics and slick production will have listeners keeping the track on repeat, even if the title is too bold to say out loud. If a clean edit is released, this could and should be a big radio hit.
19. “Can You Hear Me?” (feat Missy Elliott), Under Construction (2003)
TLC rarely collaborated with other artists, especially outside of the LaFace umbrella, but joining Missy Elliott on this poignant track was absolutely necessary. Missy was still grieving over the loss of Aaliyah in August 2001 when Left Eye tragically passed 6 months later. Being as they knew how it felt to lose someone close to them in the music industry, Missy Elliott and TLC wrote direct letters in song form to Aaliyah and Left Eye. In TLC’s verse they sing, “Aaliyah if you see Left Eye / Tell her me and Boz miss her too / No one’s gonna fill her space / T, C, L not replaced / If you and Left Eye come to chat / Tell her me and Tionne know she’s much safer“. A perfect tribute.
20. “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, CrazySexyCool (1994)
TLC weren’t the type of group to release endless covers of other hits, so when they did record a cover it had to make sense. And this was no exception. Prince made no secret that TLC was his favorite girl group and asked them to record a cover of “Get It Up” by his group The Time, which was a hit single for the movie Poetic Justice in 1993, starring Janet Jackson and 2pac. He quickly gave his blessings for the girls to record a cover of his classic “Girlfriend” too, knowing they would — and did, do it justice. T-Boz sang in a higher register than we’re used to and sounded like the female Prince! 10/10
21. “Start A Fire”, TLC (2017)
This definitive listeners guide would not be complete without this intimate gem from the latest self-titled TLC album. Another production by Ayo ‘Kayo’ Watkins, T-Boz and Chilli sing together seductively and effortlessly over the minimal instrumentation of an acoustic guitar, blended perfectly with singer/songwriter Candace Wakefield on background vocals. Just as the angelic vocals begin to take you to another world, the drum beat kicks in before the song climaxes, making you yearn for more. This can’t be the end.. and it isn’t, completely. Despite the girls declaring that this is the final album, they insist that they may still release singles for soundtracks and other projects in the future.