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Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ nears 30-year anniversary: iconic album almost never happened

Alanis Morissette’s legendary album “Jagged Little Pill” is nearing its 30th anniversary. 

The 49-year-old singer-songwriter’s third studio album was released on June 13, 1995, less than two weeks after Morissette’s 21st birthday. During a recent appearance on the “Today” show, the seven-time Grammy Award winner reflected on making the mega-hit album three decades ago.

“It feels like yesterday, but also it feels like 100 years ago,” Morissette said.

“I wrote ‘Jagged Little Pill’ when I was 19,” she continued. “Glen Ballard, who I was collaborating with, and some of them around us were saying, ‘You know, you might sell 125,000 copies.’

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“And I remember having heard that number and having been blown away.”

“Jagged Little Pill” is currently among the top 20 best-selling albums of all time. It has sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and was certified diamond two times and platinum 16 times. The album won four Grammy Awards, spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and produced three No. 1 singles.

Morissette told “Today” co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager that she never anticipated the magnitude of the album’s success.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I did have visions, though, of traveling the planet and doing shows.”

Morissette continued, “Blood, sweat, tearing all over this funny planet. So that part I had visions of, but everything else was just pretty surreal.”

Yet, the Canada native said she knew that “this is what I was born to do.” 

“Just show up in this kind of way,” Morissette added.

In addition to its massive sales, “Jagged Little Pill” also had a significant impact on the genre of rock music and influenced a generation of female artists, including Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. 

However, Morissette’s seminal album almost never came to be. The songstress faced an uphill battle while making “Jagged Little Pill” after being dropped by her record label following the release of her first two albums.

In 1991, Morissette released her debut self-titled album, “Alanis,” which went platinum in Canada. After her 1992 follow-up album “Now Is the Time” generated less than half the sales of “Alanis,” Morissette’s label MCA Records Canada opted not to re-sign her following the completion of her two-album deal.

Morissette decided to move from her hometown of Ottawa to Toronto, and then traveled to Los Angeles to write songs. Though her first two albums were in the dance-pop genre, she wanted to establish herself as a rock musician. While in Los Angeles, Morissette was introduced to songwriter and record producer Glen Ballard, who ultimately co-wrote and produced “Jagged Little Pill.”

The two instantly connected over music and began writing and recording the album together in the wake of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

“She walked in my studio in March of 1994, Encino, California, just about six weeks before that there’d been a huge earthquake, and my studio was just getting back online and when she showed up, she actually helped me finish the last day of getting it online,” Ballard told the CBC in 2019.

“We were late getting started; the studio wasn’t ruined, but a lot of stuff had been shaken up. So it was kind of after this huge, seismic event,” he added.

The duo began a routine of writing and recording one song a day. Morissette told the CBC that she would record vocals for each song at the end of the night in one or two takes. 

“Ironic,” which would become the album’s most successful single, was Morissette and Ballard’s third song collaboration, which they wrote together in late May 1994.

“When we wrote that one I was really excited because I loved it, it’s still one of my favorite songs, and everything that happened in the writing of that song convinced me that this was special,” Ballard recalled.

Despite the success of “Ironic,” Morissette previously revealed that she initially didn’t want the song to be included on the album. While appearing on Rolling Stone’s “Music Now” podcast in 2021, Morissette said she feared she would be viewed as “stupid or uneducated or ignorant” due to the song’s lyric,s which describe situations that aren’t technically ironic.

“I think the malapropism in ‘Ironic’ was the only thing I regretted,” Morissette told the CBC with a laugh. “I was like, oh God, if I knew more than 10 people were gonna hear this, I would’ve been a stickler instead of being shamed publicly, planetarily, for 20 years. And Glen and I wrote that one together. But, you know, other than that, I have zero regret about anything.”

Morissette went back to Canada for several months before returning to L.A. in the fall of 1994. She and Ballard wrote many of the album’s other tracks, including “You Oughta Know,” “Mary Jane,” “Forgiven,” “Head Over Feet,” “Hand in My Pocket,” “Right Through You” and “You Learn” in October and November of that year.

“We were just on such a roll at that point, it just felt like we knew what we were doing,” Ballard recalled to the CBC. 

“What astonished me was that she was writing stuff in real time,” he continued of Morissette. “I mean ‘Perfect’ she wrote right in front of me, and the whole concept of a child, sort of the pressure that a child feels from their parents. I mean, we weren’t even writing that song, she wasn’t thinking about it, it just kind of jumped into her brain.”

In 2020, Morissette revealed that she nearly lost all the work that she and Ballard had completed on “Jagged Little Pill” when she was attacked in Los Angeles. 

During an appearance on the BBC’s “The One Show” with hosts Alex Jones and Gethin Jones, the singer-songwriter recalled the scary moment in which she was set upon by muggers while almost finished with the album.

“I was being held up at gunpoint and they wanted all my things and I knew that I was going to give them anything, first of all,” she explained. “Second of all, I had my backpack with all the ‘Jagged Little Pill’ record contents in it.”

“I gave them my wallet and my purse and they said ‘go lie down.’ So, I laid down with my backpack and just thought they’d grab it on the way out,” she explained. “But they didn’t. So, fortuitous. And I’m happy to still be here.”

During a 2019 appearance on “The Tonight Show,” Morissette revealed that “Jagged Little Pill” faced another obstacle when the album was rejected by several record labels. 

“Is it true that no record labels were interested, they didn’t want to sign you?” host Jimmy Fallon asked.

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“Not an uncommon thing for rejection,” she said.

Morissette remembered she had written 10 songs to “get my whistle wet” before she began getting rejected.

“When we started getting rejections, I asked everyone to stop so that I could go back under my rock and keep writing,” Morissette said. “I went back and wrote more and then once I was writing ‘All I Really Want,’ which is the last song on the record… we got a call to go meet Maverick… [A&R executive] Guy Oseary, Madonna’s label.”

Morissette said she was hesitant to go to the meeting because she was wearing sweatpants, but they told her, “Who cares? Get in the car and go.”

“So I met [Oseary] in my sweatpants and we played ‘You Oughtta Know’ and ‘Perfect’ and ‘Hand in My Pocket’ and he was very excited,” she recalled.

Morissette and Ballard further reflected on the turning point for “Jagged Little Pill” during their interview with the CBC.

“Every now and then, when something like that happens, it can’t be stopped,” Ballard said. “And this couldn’t be stopped. Lord knows, I tell you, at the end of 1994, right at Christmas, I was deeply depressed.”

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He continued, “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.”

“We had started the process of [shopping it around], but I actually put a stop to it because I was taking meetings with people and they were saying things like, ‘Well, how do you perform live?’ and I turned to everybody at the time and I said I’m actually unwilling to take one more meeting where I have to describe what I do versus just evidence what I do,” Morissette said with a laugh. 

“They’ll see,” she added.

Ballard recalled how they shopped “Jagged Little Pill” to “all the major record companies” with no success.

“Nobody wanted to get us pregnant,” he said. “It didn’t matter. Honestly, how could it have been any better? It worked out perfectly.”

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Oseary, who became an A&R executive at Madonna’s label when he was 19 in 1992, told the CBC that he was completely unfamiliar with Morissette and Ballard prior to their meeting.

“They both walked into my office, I didn’t know if they were a band, actually,” he recalled. “I didn’t know anything, really — when I saw Glen I didn’t have background, I didn’t know Alanis’s background. I didn’t know anything about them.” 

Oseary continued, “The first song they played me was the demo of ‘Perfect.’ Within, I don’t know, 20 or 30 seconds into the song, I was done. I was already blown away and never heard anything like it and wanted to sign her. That was really it, for me.”

“I think we needed that, you know?,” Ballard said. “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.”

“That’s why I wasn’t as crestfallen as perhaps I could’ve been during that process of rejection after rejection is that I just thought, well, someone’s gonna get it,” Morissette remembered. “Glen got it. [Music publishing exec] Kurt Denny [who connected Ballard and Morissette] got it.”

She continued, “And we had a small group of people who really got what we were up to, so I thought it’s possible to have people understand this music, so I just won’t stop until someone does. And then Guy did.”

“I think there was something to be said for the fact that [Guy] was my age, right?,” Morissette added. “He was my generation, and so those lyrics resonated with him in a way that perhaps a 54-year-old at the time didn’t get.”

“They were scared of me,” she recalled with a laugh. “But the people who were younger were high-fiving me.”

 

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