Read the complete oral history of Jagged Little Pill, as told through interviews with Alanis Morissette, co-writer Glen Ballard, Maverick Records' Guy Oseary and more.
The stream is no longer available, but scroll down to learn about the making of the album from co-writer and producer Glen Ballard.
It’s a story you couldn’t make up if you tried: Canadian teen pop star gets dropped from label, travels to California to write new songs, ends up finding writing kindred and pens one song a day until a 13-track album is complete. Nearly a year later, she gets picked up by Madonna’s label, Maverick, releases a feminist manifesto of a record and ends up selling 30 million albums while winning multiple Grammy and Juno awards.
The little album that could is Jagged Little Pill, and that Canadian teen pop star is, of course, Alanis Morissette. Her writing kindred: Glen Ballard, who’s worked with Michael Jackson, Wilson Phillips and Paula Abdul. That was all 20 years ago as of June 13, and in honour of Jagged Little Pill's birthday you should press play on the full stream of the 1995 album above, and reconnect with your inner Alanis.
To keep you company on that nostalgia trip, we went behind the 1995 scenes of Jagged Little Pill and pulled some stories from people’s memory banks. We’ll have more for you soon, but for now, read on to learn how Alanis recorded her songs, and what’s up with that secret track.
Glen Ballard, co-writer and producer of Jagged Little Pill
On the making of
"In February of 1994, a young publisher named Kurt Dinney, who was at MCA Music Publishing, and was working in the L.A. office, he called me and said that he had a writer coming in town from Canada and he had thought me to write with her and that's how it all started. It ended up that was Alanis Morissette. And he told me that she was going to be in town for a short time and wanted to write songs. She had been an artist on MCA Records, she wasn't currently on the label, they had dropped her, but he believed in her talent so just based on that call, I agreed to do a writing session. So then we met the next month, March 8, 1994, and that's when we wrote our first song. Just immediately that first day."
"On 'You Oughta Know' it was 11 o’clock at night, she sang it once. We were exhausted. That was it. That's the record, that's the vocals. From a vocal standpoint, no one has that much courage. Everybody wants to fix their shit, she never did. She never did. She just wanted it to be that. And of course it was spectacular. But there was no Auto-Tune, no double track. We doubled certain things just for effects, but all those vocals are just her at the end of the night, singing something she just wrote. And that's the most amazing thing to me, is the way she finished it ... she comes in and sings it and made it all make sense. Because I would be making tracks all day just myself, just playing a bass part, playing a guitar, whatever, we're dreaming these tracks in our heads, and then at the end of the night she puts the vocal on it and it's like 'Oh, OK,' and everything got right."
"People think that she was in this heavy state of mind when making it, the opposite was true. I've never been funnier, she laughed at everything I had to say. She was just in a place of wanting fun and laughter, and she was making me laugh, so hard that I couldn't even sit up. Honestly, it was that fun."
On the secret track, "Your House"
"Well, I just found it and I couldn't remember myself. I thought I had maybe played piano, and actually, it's a song that I played electric guitar on and she sang to, and I just felt electric guitar didn't sound right, we just took it out. So it's a cappella now. But there is a guitar accompaniment to it ... [the guitar] was just a scratchy tang, it wasn't very good, but it set up the changes and at the end we took that away and it was like OK, magic."
"And we wanted to scare people. It comes on a minute into the sequence. So it doesn't turn off the CD, but if you were just sitting around, you've heard the record and 30 seconds, 45 seconds go by and you think it's over, you're thinking about something else, and you hear her singing. It's spooky. It's scared me a few times, I love it. We're grateful to everybody who sticks around to hear it [laughs]."
On getting signed
"Every now and then, when something like that happens, it can't be stopped. And this couldn’t be stopped. Lord knows, I tell you, at the end of 1994, right at Christmas, I was deeply depressed. We had all these songs. Alanis had to go back to Canada, and no one had signed it. I actually didn't know if I was actually going to see her again, and it was just like what a bummer, you know? 'Cause I thought there was something special there. I think our whole goal was to sell enough records the first time so we could make another one. There was interest but nobody went for it. It was discouraging. By the end of that year we'd basically written the record, and we weren't getting a great response. So except for a small group of people who believed in it, you know: her manager, the publishers, lawyer, me — honestly it's 10 people. And all the other record companies, all the major record companies basically they just thought it's not right for them, for whatever reason."
"So I drove Alanis to Maverick [co-founded by Madonna] and we walked in the front door, 8000 Beverly Boulevard, and we played Guy [Oseary] a couple songs and he was like oh man, immediately he didn't play any games, he just loved it. He heard 'Perfect' and said, 'What is this?' And it was the best response we had gotten. I think we needed that, you know? And so it was enormously encouraging, and the next thing you know he was convincing everybody in that building: this is what Maverick Records should sign. And he convinced everybody. I mean honestly, the music did a lot of the convincing, but it was not without everybody feeling that this could work. We went from just being the unwanted stepchild to being Cinderella."
Steve Waxman, director of publicity from 1992 to present at Warner Music Group, owner and operator of Maverick Records
"I didn't know if radio programmers and press would be able to get past [Alanis's] past. So I think I'm the one person, probably in the company, that thought, 'Meeeeh I don't know.' I mean I knew that the record was really good and I knew that the performances she put on was a really great rock performance, but I also didn't have all that much faith in radio programmers and the press people at the time, giving her the opportunity to express herself the way she wanted to express herself. I ended up servicing the record to media without telling them who it was, initially. That being said, that lasted for a minute. Because word spread of this record so fast that my lame attempt at trying to be smart was stupid. Because word — I mean literally, if anybody didn't know who it was when I sent them the record, they knew within a day who it was because word was spreading so quickly about this record. … [my reservation] was completely unfounded. Completely unfounded, I was an idiot [laughs]."
"People were so overwhelmed by the record. It was actually fascinating to watch because it wasn't just that people were reacting so positively it's just that the record really seemed to connect with everybody. It was really quite amazing."
"As big as it was, and as quickly as it got big ... when she was on the cover of Rolling Stone it was like holy shit. This is f--king big."
Maie Pauts, midday announcer throughout the '90s at Toronto’s alt-rock radio station the Edge
"You know what? People went crazy for 'You Oughta Know.' The rest of the album, of course, did extremely well. But 'You Oughta Know,' also because she was just so graphic with her language and everything. People absolutely phoned in and requested that and wanted to hear it and it moved people in a way, more than any other song on that album did, that's for sure."
"I think it blew us away as someone who was not only working in the industry but as also a female listening to other female artists. What stood out to me was that [Alanis] was accepting her vulnerability but she definitely was not, shall we say, a victim. She was very angry, she was very aggressive. And I think the tone of the whole Jagged Little Pill album was one that embraced women for all that we are. Yes, we are women who have emotions and, like anybody else, weaknesses, but that doesn't mean that we don't have our strengths. And I really think that that spoke to us. To a lot of our audience."
We're celebrating Jagged Little Pill all week long. Click here for more thoughts on the record and to find out which musicans were deeply affected by it.