In anticipation of tonight’s VH1 movie CrazySexyCool: the TLC Story (premieres tonight 9/8c on VH1) and last week’s release of TLC 20, a greatest hits album (with one new track) that celebrates the group’s 20th anniversary, we at PopBlerd! thought it was only fitting to recognize the award-winning trio with a list of the top 10 TLC songs of all-time.
Before we begin, let’s start with a brief recap of the group’s success, starting with their debut album Ooooooohh … On the TLC Tip (1992), which sold six million copies and helped the group make a mark, not just with their unique style but with their outlandish outfits, and often wacky usage of condoms on their clothing (or over their left eye).
TLC’s real success came in 1994 with the release of CrazySexyCool. The album won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, had two No. 1 singles, and sold 23 million copies, the second biggest-selling album for a girl group (behind the Spice Girls) ever.
CrazySexyCool was followed up by the Grammy nominated FanMail in 1999, and the trio’s final album 3D (2002), released seven months after the tragic death of member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Personally, TLC became one of my favorite artists. Their mix of smooth R&B vocals by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chili” Thomas, mixed with the nasally rap of Lopes created a fresh sound from a female group. I didn’t usually dig female R&B groups (sorry En Vogue, SWV, Total and later Destiny’s Child), but there was something unique about TLC that resonated in my ears.
In fact, I’m still disappointed that I missed out on the Boyz II Men / TLC / Montell Jordan concert at the Gorge in George, Washington back in 1995. My three favorite artists – at the time, though Boyz II Men still top that list – all in one beautiful venue.
And I just remembered that CrazySexyCool was my first album review (I think I’ve done two since – thanks PopBlerd!), written back in 1994 for the high school newspaper, the Hye-Tye.
With all that said, let’s move ahead to the top 10 TLC songs of all-time. Enjoy the reminiscing! I did!
No. 10 – “Damaged” from 3D
Quite possibly TLC’s best “unknown” single, “Damaged” is a rock-flavored offering that only vaguely resembles anything else ever recorded by the trio. Written by closet rock chick T-Boz and not so closet rock producer Dallas Austin, the song covers lyrical territory I can certainly identify with. T-Boz and Chilli sing from the perspective of someone who’s entering a new relationship and asking for forgiveness, as she’s been “damaged” by being hurt during prior relationships. Hell, I can’t imagine too many people *not* being able to identify with a song like that. Despite not hitting the top 40 of Billboard’s pop chart, it remains one of TLC’s finest moments, proving the group had the capability to go on following the death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. (MJ)
No. 9 – “Diggin’ On You” from CrazySexyCool
The final single from the CrazySexyCool album, “Diggin’ On You” also had the hard task of following the trio’s biggest single “Waterfalls”. Written and produced by Babyface, the smooth jam reminds me of summer love. It could be the “in the park 4th of July, chillin’ with my Kool-Aid” line, or that a simple line or two can make her start diggin’ on you. Either way, it was one of the smoothest tracks the girls had created. (KJ)
No. 8 – “No Scrubs” from FanMail
What a way to come back.
By the time 1999 hit, “Waterfalls” was a fond but distant memory, “Diggin’ on You” was forgotten, and nobody really knew what to expect of a TLC that was five years older. What “No Scrubs” showed us was a trio more confident, more polished, and more ready for the big time than they had ever been. This had more than a little to do with a Hype Williams video that was unmistakably a Hype Williams video, except it looked like the future of Hype Williams videos. It moved faster, looked sleeker, and had all the bells and whistles you could ask for, for a video directed in 1999. It wasn’t a video that you watched, so much as you stared at it.
Still, even the prettiest video in the world would be nothing without a great song, and “No Scrubs” is a great song. It alleviated every fear that the success of “Waterfalls” would turn TLC into a hyperserious trio with no sense of humor, and yet it offered a hook with every bit of the insidious catchiness of that aforementioned hit. It took all of a week or so for it to become the sort of cultural touchstone that everyone could sing together, and it took a solid three months for all of us to get sick of it and let TLC get down to serious business again. TLC was back, and we couldn’t have been happier. (Mike S.)
It’s a fantastic self-image song where T-Boz and Chili sing about how society can make women in particular feel unpretty. The video enhanced the song, showing Chili feeling insecure about her small breasts and a young woman stopping herself from throwing up after looking at photos of models. The only thing this song is missing is a hot rhyme from Left Eye. As shown on Waterfalls, Left Eye’s rhymes could accentuate even the serious songs. (GG)
I don’t know how he does it. How can a dude write a song from the woman’s perspective, yet make a man’s hair on the back of his neck rise, and chills tingle down his spine? I guess that’s what makes Babyface one of the better writer/producers in music history.
‘Face was at it again with the second single from the CrazySexyCool album, and TLC’s sexiest track, “Red Light Special”. Though I’d also put “This Is How It Works,” which fell short of the top 10, from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, a tight second. The lyrics that made you wish someone was telling you to come through the door, take off their clothes and turn on the red light, all presented to you in the sultry voice of T-Boz. It all made me a little hot and wanting to feel a little Chili. See what I did there? (KJ)
No. 5 – “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” from Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip
This is where it all started – the single and video for “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” introduced the world to TLC, and the world welcomed them into the pop fold. While the group’s image generated misconceptions about their age, the girls were actually in their early 20s, which makes the lyrical content of “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” more appropriate. At the time, much of the information about sex in popular media was either heavy-handed preaching or frankly rather frightening narratives about the dangers of sexual activity. In this context, along came TLC to make sex fun again. “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” is at root a progressive sexual anthem, ascribing sexual agency to women, embracing monogamy, and (in the video), advocating safe sex. Musically, the song is steeped in New Jack Swing at the tail end of that genre’s reign. And while the song (and the album from whence it came) didn’t fully establish TLC from an artistic standpoint, it certainly brought success, and set the stage for a decade of hit-making activity. (Gonzo)
No. 4 – “Baby-Baby-Baby” from Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip
It didn’t take long for TLC to show their softer side. “Baby-Baby-Baby” was the second single the ladies released. It was a refreshing change of pace from the raucous “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” offering up girlish crooning from T-Boz and Chilli. This was no typical love song, though. The girls (well, actually, Babyface, who wrote the song) lay down the law about being respected in a relationship. “Long as you know that I can have any man I want to, baby that’s actual and factual,” Chilli sings before reassuring her man with “still I choose you.” The simple message of mutual respect and reciprocity within a relationship was timely, and the signature LaFace production took “Baby” to the top of the R&B charts and near the top of the pop charts during the summer of 1992. (MJ)
No. 3 – “What About Your Friends” from Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip
The third single from TLC’s debut album, Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, “What About Your Friends” is a teenage girls’ anthem about trust and knowing who your true friends are. I harken back to 1992 as I was a sophomore in high school. What made TLC so cool? They were the female version of BBD with a cross-coloring of Kriss Kross and an anti-En Vogue feel. They wore what today would be considered as crazy and unfeminine fashion with 3XL sized shirts, baggy pants (which they wore down real low with their hats to the back), and boots. But in that, they oozed young, fresh, and rebellious. When everyone in high school is just trying to fit in, they were individualistic and trend setting (at least for the time and place).
This song in particular gave young folks a connection to the group and let them know that they had similar issues as young people. While Dallas Austin did the majority of the writing, Left Eye espouses a little creative rhyme about how being different sometimes results in envy. (GG)
No. 2 – “Waterfalls” from CrazySexyCool
On one hand, the turn of phrase in the chorus is clever enough to be catchy on its own — “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to” is so simultaneously cutting and cautious as to be instantly applicable to almost everyone — but the descending melody is what cements the song in your consciousness. It even pulls the trick of using the same melody for much of the verse as it does the chorus, making you feel like you can sing along to the chorus before you’ve even heard it for the first time. It’s classic soul as run through the unique (for the time) perspective that TLC brought, and it’s a brilliantly written song. Combine all that with a video that was both moving and technically impressive, and you have a song that nobody who lived through the ’90s is likely to ever forget. (Mike S.)
I’ve never been a fan of the “you cheat on me, that’s OK, I still love you” type of tunes (though Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” has always been one of my top two favorite songs of all-time), but when you add a nice beat, trickled in with a some horn, a small sampling of Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” and the vocals of T-Boz, it seems to make things a little more tolerable. Plus, she cheats back so it’s all even right? Not according to Left Eye, who supposedly threatened to wear black tape over her mouth in the music video because she felt the girl better leave rather than cheat back. Agree!The lead single from the hit album CrazySexyCool, “Creep” reached the top of the charts (a first for the trio), won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and to this day still makes me sway back-and-forth on the dance floor. (KJ)
Did you favorite make the top 10? Do you have fond memories of the trio from Atlanta? Let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, check out the trailer for tonight’s movie.