This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Unlike Jewel’s Pieces of You (released a few months earlier in ‘95), Morissette’s album was pretty much a smash from the start: Though it debuted at no. 117 on the Billboard 200, it bounded into the top 10 within six weeks (largely on the back of its lead single “You Oughta Know,” already a smash at modern rock radio) and ascended to the top spot by the end of September. Jagged Little Pill ultimately stayed on the chart for a staggering 113 weeks, sold over 33 million units worldwide, and turned Morissette into a household name.
Jagged Little Pill is one of the only three truly “important” rock albums of the 1990s, and like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Radiohead’s OK Computer, it became hallowed on its own terms and spawned countless imitators, none of whom were ever able to capture the energy and singularity of Morissette’s vision. Because it was such a transcendent piece of work, I polled the Entertainment Weekly staff and asked them for their Jagged Little Pill stories.
I’ll start: When Jagged Little Pill was released, I was already something of a rock snob, and I immediately bristled at the idea that Morissette’s radio-ready version of angst was legitimate (to my ears, she always sounded uncomfortable cursing when she hit the always-edited line, “And are you thinking of me when you f— her?”). Second single “Hand In My Pocket” also annoyed me, primarily because it had a harmonica solo (I dismissed Morissette as chasing the harmonica-based success of Blues Traveler, who were inexplicably a big deal at the time). I even included Jagged Little Pill on my list of the worst albums of 1995, a list that I wrote for an English assignment (I picked Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as the best album of the year, and got an A).
Fast-forward to the summer of 1996. Back in that era, albums could have the kind of staying power that Jagged Little Pill did, and by the time school let out the following year, Morissette’s album remained dominant. (One year after its release, it was still the number two album in the country and was already certified diamond, signifying sales of over 10 million.) That summer, I woke up at 4 A.M. every day to go weed fields and pick vegetables for a local farm. It sounds like misery, but it’s actually one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had: My work day was over by 8 o’clock, and I could spend the entirety of it listening to my Walkman and spending time with the local modern rock radio station’s morning show (which, unlike a lot of zoo crew shows at the time, mostly played music). I have vivid memories of a ton of alt-rock also-rans from that summer, like Sponge’s “Wax Ecstatic,” Solution A.D.’s “Fearless,” Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars,” Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand,” and the Nixons’ “Sister.”
But one of the songs that ended up in heavy rotation on the radio that summer was “You Learn,” the fourth single from Jagged Little Pill. I don’t know what had happened, but all of a sudden, Morissette was speaking to me. A video of Morissette and her crack band playing the song live made a few appearances on MTV, and I found it to be totally shred-worthy. My opinion shifted. “You know, that ‘Ironic’ song was pretty good, too!” I thought. And the local station had already begun playing “Head Over Feet,” which I also thought was sweetly anthemic. Perhaps I was already becoming more sentimental, or maybe I just needed to understand heartbreak before I could really relate to what Alanis was saying, but Jagged Little Pill went from something I reviled to something I craved.
So one morning, when my squash-picking and tomato-cleaning was done, I pedaled my bike over to the local strip mall and purchased a copy of Jagged Little Pill. When albums have long lives on the chart, I often think, “How could there possibly be 50,000 people who just decided to buy Adele’s 21 a year after it came out?” But I was one of those people, and sometimes it just takes some time in the dirty to appreciate the diamonds.
And now, some tales from some other EW staffers.
Amy Wilkinson, staff editor
Several years after the release of Jagged Little Pill—which earned more plays on my boombox than any other CD in my collection—I found myself sitting in an AP English class being asked to define the term “ironic.” To which I confidently blurted out: “It’s like rain on your wedding day!” As you might imagine, this answer was met with a humorless frown from my teacher and the explanation that this particular scenario did not, in fact, meet the conditions of irony. Thanks for nothing, Alanis.
Isabella Biedenharn, editorial assistant
I associate Jagged Little Pill with PineSol, because my parents always played this album when it was time to clean the house. “Hand In My Pocket” stuck with me because its lyrics are so visual, and when you’re at Sesame Street age like I was, you love singing songs about pockets and high-fives. Might as well have been the sequel to A Pocket for Corduroy.
Tim Leong, design director
The first thought I have about this album was an MTV commercials that parodied them. MTV had this character named Jimmy the Cab Driver (which was also my first introduction to the amazing Donal Logue). MTV did this hilarious video that spoofed Alanis’s iconic “Ironic” video. It was so weird and singular and off-putting and amusing. They don’t make them like that anymore (which could also be said for Jagged).
Gillian Telling, senior editor
Jagged Little Pill came out my senior year of high school, and “You Oughta Know” was on the radio constantly. My boyfriend and I, as two teenagers are wont to do, used to just drive around town in his Saab 900 after school, listening to music for hours until it got dark. Anyway, one day after “You Oughta Know” played, he was like, “I don’t get it. What does she mean by a cross-eyed bear?” I asked what he meant. “Like, is it an angry bear? Is it a metaphor for something?” In between dying of laughter I explained that she was saying “Cross I’d bear.” Anyway, we laughed until we were crying, and for the next several months would sign our little love notes with a picture of a cross eyed bear that we nicknamed Alanis. Jagged Little Pill still reminds me of those days: being young and carefree, just a teenager in love.
Kurt Christenson, writer/photo editor — EW.com
I had a crush on that dorky weirdo Alanis when she was on my favorite TV show growing up, You Can’t Do That on Television, but I didn’t recognize the full-grown Alanis who stole my heart with Jagged Little Pill until afterwards. Throw in her cameo as God in Kevin Smith’s Dogma and no one will ever be able to replace her as my ultimate crush. As for the album itself, it’s all amazing, but that a capella hidden track kills me every single time.
Mary Michael, senior manager — production
The first time I ever heard “You Oughta Know,” I thought it was awful awful awful terrible. I still don’t like it. Shriektastic, you know? Alanis went on to become my favorite female musician of all time. I love her, I just hated her first single.
Nia Howe-Smith, intern
My freshman year, my roommate and I had been arguing and mad at each other for about a week. One day, we were both studying and listening to music and “Ironic” came on. We wordlessly agreed to sing and dance along together, and we recreated that moment every day for a week. That song brings people together.