Release date: June 1995
Jagged Little Pill is the third studio album (and the first to be released internationally) by Canadian-American singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. The album marked a shift in style and genre for Morissette from her previous dance pop sound. As detailed in the article about the seventh track, "You Learn", the title is a metaphor for lessons of life that are hard to accept. The album was Morissette's breakthrough album, and contained five hits, "You Oughta Know", "Ironic", "You Learn", "Hand in My Pocket", and "Head over Feet".
Background and production
In 1993, after leaving MCA Records Canada, Morissette moved from her home town of Ottawa to Toronto. Living alone for the first time in her life, she met with a bevy of songwriters, but the results frustrated her. A visit to Nashville a few months later also proved fruitless. Morissette began making trips to Los Angeles and working with as many musicians as possible, in the hopes of meeting a collaborator. During this time, she met producer and songwriter Glen Ballard. According to Ballard, the connection was "instant", and within 30 minutes of meeting each other they had begun experimenting with different sounds in Ballard's home studio in San Fernando Valley, California. Ballard and Morissette penned their first song together, called "The Bottom Line". The turning point in their sessions was the song "Perfect", which was written and recorded in 20 minutes. Morissette improvised the lyrics on the spot, and Ballard played guitar. The version of the song that appeared on Jagged Little Pill was the only take that the pair recorded.
Morissette later revealed that during her stay in L.A., she was robbed on a deserted street by a man with a gun. The writings and brainstormings that eventually made up Jagged Little Pill had not been taken from her purse. After the robbery, Morissette developed an intense and general angst and suffered daily panic attacks. She was hospitalized and attended psychotherapy sessions, but it didn't improve her emotional status. As Morissette later revealed in interviews, she focused all her inner problems on the soul-baring lyrics of the album for her own health. According to Morissette, Ballard was the first collaborator who encouraged her to express her emotions.
The demo recording sessions started in 1994 at Ballard's home studio and included only Morissette and the producer, who recorded the songs as they were being written. Ballard provided the rough tracks, playing the guitars, keyboards and programming drum machines, and Morissette played harmonica. The duo sought to write and record one song a day, in twelve- or sixteen-hour shifts, with minimal overdubbing later. All of Morissette's singing on the album respects that rule, and it was recorded in one or two takes each. The tracks that were redone later in a professional studio use the original demo vocals.
The first song to be shown to A&R and record company people was "Perfect", with a simple arrangement containing only Morissette's vocals and Ballard's acoustic guitar. In 1995, around the time that Morissette penned a deal with Maverick Records, the couple took the demos to a studio and started building some new band arrangements for some of them. During the overdub sessions, Flea and Dave Navarro (then Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmates) appeared at the studio, discovered Morissette's work, and offered to play on "You Oughta Know".
There are seven known outtakes from the recording sessions: "Keep the Radio On", "Bottom Line", "Beautiful Intent", "Aura", "No Avalon", "Superstar Wonderful Weirdos", and an alternate take of "Ironic" with a lyric change ("It's like ice cream on a freezing day" instead of "It's a black fly in your chardonnay").
Release and reception
Maverick Records released Jagged Little Pill in June 1995. Because expectations for the album were low, Scott Welsh (Morissette's manager and long-time friend) and executives at Maverick did not expect the album to sell more than 250,000 copies. It debuted at number 117 on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart.
Things quickly changed when a Los Angeles DJ from the influential radio station KROQ began playing "You Oughta Know", the album's first single. The song instantly garnered attention, and a subsequent music video went into heavy rotation on MTV. The subject of the song (long suspected to be ex-boyfriend Dave Coulier of television's Full House, whose relationship with Morissette had soured shortly before the song was recorded), became the most guessed-about antagonist since that of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain". However, it was the hit singles that followed that sent Jagged Little Pill to the top. "Hand in My Pocket" was released as the second single, and then "Ironic", which became Morissette's biggest hit. "You Learn" and "Head over Feet", the next two singles, kept Jagged Little Pill in the top twenty on the Billboard 200 for over a year. Outside the U.S., "All I Really Want" was released in 1997 as the album's last single, and in Europe "You Learn" was released before "Ironic".
The album is considered one of the most successful albums of all time for its many commercial achievements, received awards and cultural resonance, worldwide. The album garnered great success, spending twelve non-consecutive weeks at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart. By 2009, the album had sold 33 million units worldwide.
In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Jagged Little Pill the nineteenth greatest album of all time. In October 2002, Rolling Stone ranked it number 31 on its Women In Rock - The 50 Essential Albums list, and in 2003 the magazine ranked it number 327 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album also holds a title in The Definitive 200 Albums list, in which it is placed at number 26.
The album was nominated for six Grammy Awards in 1996, and Morissette won "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance", "Best Rock Song", "Best Rock Album", and "Album of the Year" (she won all but "Best New Artist" and "Song of the Year"). Up until 2010 she was the youngest person to receive the Album of the Year award, at age 21. Later that year, she embarked on an eighteen-month world tour in support of Jagged Little Pill, beginning in small clubs and ending in large venues. In 1997 she was nominated for two more Grammy Awards: "Record of the Year" and "Best Music Video, Short Form" for "Ironic". The video Jagged Little Pill, Live, which chronicled the bulk of the tour, won a 1998 Grammy Award for "Best Long Form Music Video".
In 2005 Morissette re-released an acoustic version of the album, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, on the tenth anniversary of the original album's release. This album was originally sold through Starbucks' Hear Music brand in an exclusive six-week deal that ended on July 26, 2005. For the duration of this partnership, music retailer HMV boycotted the sale of Morissette's entire catalogue in Canada.