How "Jagged Little Pill" became Alanis Morissette's legendary breakout

Released 25 years ago this month, "Jagged Little Pill" established Morisette's lasting legacy and influence

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published June 6, 2020 1:30PM (EDT)

Sheltering in Place with Classic Albums (Getty Images/Salon)
Sheltering in Place with Classic Albums (Getty Images/Salon)

Each week, I'll present a new album for your consideration—a means for passing these uncertain times in musical bliss. For some readers, hearing about the latest selection might offer a chance reacquaintance with an old friend. For others, the series might provide an unexpected avenue for making a new one.

In the mid-1990s, Alanis Morissette's LP "Jagged Little Pill" was a mega-success story, turning over more than 30 million units and six hit singles. With "Jagged Little Pill," Morissette enjoyed one of popular music's greatest breakout triumphs. In one fell swoop, she ascended to the heights of the industry, establishing a legacy and influence that lasts into the present day.

The story behind "Jagged Little Pill"'s unlikely success is the stuff of pop music folklore. Prior to the album's release, Morissette had attempted to make inroads into her native Canadian music marketplace. After two middling LPs, she made her way to California. In a moment of great fortune, she found herself in the orbit of veteran songwriter and producer Glen Ballard. Over the years, Ballard had scored a slew of hits with Michael Jackson, the Pointer Sisters, and Paula Abdul.

Working in Ballard's San Fernando Valley home studio, they co-wrote the entire album and recorded demos in the space of a few short weeks, with the duo knocking out a new tune every day and requiring only a handful of takes. The result was a rush of energy and excitement. Morissette and Ballard's songs sported the singer's post-adolescent lyrical angst in cahoots with the veteran composer's melodic skills.

At first, "Jagged Little Pill" was released to a slow burn, only to be ignited by "You Oughta Know." Released in July 1995, the single caught fire when LA's prominent KROQ-FM radio station placed "You Oughta Know" into heavy rotation. With the song's fierce lyrics about sexual betrayal, fueled by Morissette's scathing performance, "You Oughta Know" propelled Jagged Little Pill towards the top of the charts.

Listen to "You Oughta Know":

While "Jagged Little Pill" has rightly earned a reputation for being the quintessential album associated with generational angst, Morissette and Ballard peppered the LP with a host of progressive, humanist-oriented tunes—songs like "Hand in My Pocket" and "You Learn" that challenge the listener to contemplate the power of interpersonal connection and community.

Listen to "Hand in My Pocket":

Listen to "You Learn":

Thanks to "Ironic," one of the album's bestselling singles, Morissette took plenty of ribbing—especially from English majors like myself—over her slippery definition of the term. But even still, "Ironic" offered a hopeful vision about triumphing over the daily ills that threaten to undo us at every turn. As with "Jagged Little Pill"'s larger sense of humanity, "Ironic" reminds us why Morissette's musical vision and buoyant outlook are just as fresh and salient as they were back in the 1990s.

Listen to "Ironic"

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill Music Review