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Stories Behind Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' That You Oughta Know

Updated December 30, 2019 19.7k views14 items

Alanis Morissette was just a teenager without a record deal when she began working with producer Glen Ballard on Jagged Little Pill. As a result, there weren't a lot of high expectations for the Canadian singer's third studio album. A popular radio station in Los Angeles started to air the first single, "You Oughta Know," on heavy rotation, and the song's raw lyrics and instrumentals made more than a lasting impression. 

Jagged Little Pill has a 1990s grunge-alternative rock sound, and is still somehow radio-friendly. The album went on to sell over 33 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time. It also won five Grammy Awards. Morissette's LP is often cited as one of the greatest and most influential albums ever recorded. 

Jagged Little Pill is not just about the angst-driven "You Oughta Know," however, and it features five other chart-topping singles. It turned Alanis Morissette into one of the biggest international pop superstars of the 1990s. 

Behind-the-scenes stories of Jagged Little Pill reveal how the album's massive success negatively affected Morissette, what Alanis thinks of the album today, and who the infamous "Mr. Duplicity" might be. 

  • Photo: Full House / ABC

    Dave Coulier Claims To Be The Older Man Whom Alanis Wrote 'You Oughta Know' About

    The first released track off of Jagged Little Pill is "You Oughta Know." The song and the video became instant hits. The lyrics demanded attention; there was absolutely nothing like it on the radio. It was raw, borderline salacious, and autobiographical. The song's narrative tells the tale of an older man who manipulates and lies. The mystery man leaves Morissette and quickly becomes involved with another woman: 

    You seem very well, things look peaceful
    I'm not quite as well, I thought you should know
    Did you forget about me, Mr. Duplicity?
    I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner
    It was a slap in the face
    How quickly I was replaced
    And are you thinking of me when you f*ck her?

    Morissette has never revealed the object of her scorn. Even decades later, she feels the need to protect him.

    "I'm not being coquettish," she said. "A lot of people have said it's a great revenge song, but the idea of revenge being acted out is something that I think is really dangerous in our world. The reason I won't say who it's about - certainly, it’s to protect them on some level, but mostly it's about me wanting to make sure I stand by my value system of not advocating revenge."

    According to Dave Coulier, Uncle Joey from Full House, he is the mystery man in question. The actor dated the singer in the early 1990s, so it's certainly possible. In a 2013 interview, Coulier said he called Morissette and asked her how she wanted him to respond to the media if they started asking him questions about the song. Morissette told him to say whatever he wanted. 

    Coulier revealed that the one line that gave it away for him was, "I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner," because, "We had already broken up... She called and I said, 'Hey, you know, I'm right in the middle of dinner. Can I just call you right back?'" He added, "When I heard the line, it was like, 'uh-oh.'"

  • Morissette Recorded The Vocals On Every Song In Just One Or Two Takes

    After Morissette was dropped from her label, she ventured out to Los Angeles. She was voraciously composing songs at the time, writing all day and all night. Kurt Dinney from MCA Music Publishing contacted Glen Ballard and said he wanted him to meet a young artist named Alanis Morissette. Dinney hoped that the two could write new songs together, and as it turns out, the pairing was perfect. 

    Ballard is credited, along with Morissette, for composing the music for every track on Jagged Little Pill. He was impressed that the artist could nail her vocals on each song in just one or two takes. Ballard explained:

    I recorded all those vocals at the end of the night, sometimes one take. "You Oughta Know," one take. Most of 'em, two takes. And it was that part of it, to this day, [that] amazes me more than anything. Because she did not ever, ever get neurotic about vocals. A lot of singers just naturally will be. She just couldn't be less concerned. She just would go out and sing.

    Morissette talks about how she was able to record the vocals so quickly:

    I think the process for me was really sacred, but it wasn't precious. If I were to have gone in to re-record these vocals, they would've been very awkward [laughs]. Because I already had them, you know? There was a really urgent, visceral, immediate, real-time capturing that Glen was able to do with his C12 mic, his magic mic, the original Magic Mike. And so I just felt the vocals were already there, and he did too.

  • Photo: Serendipity seren / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    'Jagged Little Pill' Was Initially Rejected By Several Record Labels

    After completing Jagged Little Pill, Ballard and Morissette shopped it around to record labels. Unfortunately, the pair initially faced nothing but rejection. Ballard discussed how every label turned them down: 

    [We shopped it to] all the major record companies. Every single one. Every one. Interscope almost signed it, Atlantic, there was this guy at Atlantic named Steve Greenberg who loved it, he couldn't get his bosses to sign it. Warner Brothers passed, even though they [had] it up on Reprise. All the majors, I mean everybody, honestly, because we had a lot of people, we had enough connections to get people to hear it. Honestly, it was different. People sort of liked it, but it was like, that doesn't mean anything.

  • Photo: Maverick Records / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Ballard And Morissette Would Write One Song Every Day

    The pairing of Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette seemed to be pure kismet right from the start. The singer was not armed with a record deal, but she did have ideas for dozens of songs in her arsenal. The writing duo got to work in a studio located in Encino, California. The space was loaded with an abundance of windows to let the sunshine in. It even had a tranquil garden. There were no engineers or other musicians working with them.

    The team would write music together for 10-12 hours a day. At the end of each writing day, they would emerge with a demo. Ballard revealed Morissette's process:

    She had bunches of journals, she had reams of thoughts and ideas, which she did reference. But usually it was only as a reference. Most everything, she was just writing it right out based on where we were going musically.

    She might have a phrase, but the most important thing for me was that she started singing early. I was hearing this incredible voice in the room, even if the words weren't completely there. It certainly guided me musically - it was a really wonderful process. The words came out of what we were doing right in that moment and the conversations we had.