On this day in 1995, Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill. The album went on to sell over 30 million copies world-wide and made Morissette the first female Canadian to score a U.S. #1 album.
It all happened so quickly. Just four years earlier, Alanis had appeared on the Canadian talent show Star Search performing a version of the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple”. She lost to a singing cowboy named Chad.
The singer’s fast rise to fame started in 1993, when Morissette’s publisher MCA Music introduced her to manager Scott Welch. Welch was impressed by her “spectacular voice”, her character and her lyrics. At the time she was still living at home with her parents. After graduating from high school, Morissette moved from Ottawa to Toronto. The two wrote and recorded Morissette’s first internationally released album, Jagged Little Pill, laying all the instruments down themselves as demos. By the spring of 1995, she had signed a deal with Maverick Records (of which Madonna is a co-founder), after every label they had approached had passed on the project.
Alanis moved to L.A to record the tracks using session musicians. Shortly after moving there, she was robbed on a deserted street by a man with a gun, although luckily the ideas, lyrics and brainstormings that eventually made up Jagged Little Pill were not taken by the robber, who was only after her money. As an unfortunate consequence, Morissette suffered daily panic attacks, was briefly hospitalised and attended psychotherapy sessions.
Amazingly, the majority of the tracks on the finished album contain the original demo recording of her voice, most of which were recorded in one or two takes. Flea and Dave Navarro (then Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmates) happened to be working at the same studio and, on hearing Morissette’s work, offered to play on the track “You Oughta Know”.
KROQ, the influential Los Angeles modern rock radio station, began playing “You Oughta Know”, the album’s first single. The song instantly garnered attention for its scathing, explicit lyrics, and a subsequent music video went into heavy rotation on MTV.
“All I Really Want” and “Hand In My Pocket” followed, but it was the fourth U.S. single, “Ironic”, that was to become Morissette’s biggest hit. Written in just fifteen minutes by Morissette and Glen Ballard, the track peaked at #4 in the US. The simple but highly effective video, which had Morissette driving a dark blue 1977 Lincoln Mark V through a winter landscape, also featured the singer playing multiple roles as her passengers. MTV nominated the music video for six MTV Video Music Awards in 1996, winning three of them. The song received two Grammy Award nominations in 1997, for Record of the Year and for Best Short Form Music Video, and the video was listed amongst MTV and VH1’s “Greatest Music Videos”.
Jagged Little Pill became the best-selling international debut album by a female artist, with more than 16 million copies sold in the U.S.; it’s now sold 33 million copies worldwide, making it the third biggest selling album by a female artist, and the biggest selling debut album.
Nominated in 1996 for six Grammy Awards, Jagged Little Pill and Morissette won “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance”,”Best Rock Song”, “Best Rock Album”, and “Album of the Year”, only missing out on “Best New Artist” and “Song of the Year”.
Writing this, I dug out my copy of the album, which still sounds great. I’d forgotten what a full-on rock album it is. In the process, researching Alanis for these writings, I came across a couple of facts I didn’t know:
– She is the youngest artist to ever win an “Album of the Year” Grammy (aged 21) and Alanis Morissette is a nudist – which I suppose I should have guessed from the video to ‘Thank You’.
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