Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch”series where wefind out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
This song is an angry message from a scorned ex-girlfriend directed at her former lover. Morissette has said it is about a specific person, but that person has not contacted her, and probably doesn’t know it’s about him. Morissette claims she will never say who this is about, just as Carly Simon has done with “You’re So Vain.”The song was rumored to be about the actor Dave Coulier, whom Morissette dated for a time – Coulier says it was in 1992 when Alanis would have been 17 or 18 years old and he would have been 32 or 33 (hence the line “an older version of me”). Coulier played Joey on the TV show Full House, and is known for his Bullwinkle impression.In a 2008 interview with the Calgary Herald, Coulier claimed the song is about their rocky former relationship. The actor/comedian said that he first heard the track when he was driving. “I said, ‘Wow, this girl is angry.’ And then I said, ‘Oh man, I think it’s Alanis,'” Coulier revealed. “I listened to the song over and over again, and I said, ‘I think I have really hurt this person.’ I tried to contact her and I finally got a hold of her. And at the same time, the press was calling and saying, ‘You want to comment on this song?’ I called her and I said, ‘Hi. Uh, what do you want me to say?’ And she said, ‘You can say whatever you want.’ We saw each other and hung out for an entire day. And it was beautiful. It was one of those things where it was kind of like, ‘We’re good.'”Coulier later said that he only admitted to being the subject of the song to placate reporters who kept asking him about it. In 2014, he told Buzzfeed: “The guy in that song is a real a-hole, so I don’t want to be that guy.”
The lyrics came from a journal entry Morissette wrote during what she describes as “a very devastated time.” She told Spotify: “When I hear that song, I hear the anger as a protection around the searing vulnerability. I was mortified and devastated. It was a lot easier for me to be angry and feel the power from that anger versus the broken, horrified woman on the floor.”
Morissette started out as a dance-pop singer, releasing her first album in her native Canada in 1991 when she was 16. Another album was released a year later, but then she was dropped from her label. Looking to change direction, she went to Los Angeles and met with producers, looking for someone to help fulfill her vision. She found her man in Glen Ballard, who worked for Quincy Jones’ label and produced the first Wilson Phillips album.They had an instant rapport and easy songwriting chemistry, completing one song every time they met for a session at Ballard’s studio. “You Oughta Know” was written on October 6, 1994, after a three-month hiatus. By this time, Morissette was comfortable enough with Ballard to reveal her deeply personal lyric. After they worked up the track, she blasted out the vocal in one take.
In an interview with Ballard, he said: “The most wonderful thing for me as a writer is to hear someone’s voice in the room, and she was constantly auditioning how to do it, so at the end of the night on ‘You Oughta Know,’ we had a track, and she just went out and sang it one time, and since I was the engineer too, I was hoping I’d got it. It’s not the best recorded vocal in the world – some of it is too hot – but that’s the only time she ever sang it in the studio. Even when we were getting ready to put the record out, all those vocals were the original vocals. I’ve never done anything that authentically live. Really, that’s what it was, a live vocal, but she’s so damn good that she could pull it off. There was some talk about refining things and re-doing things, but she was adamant that there was something about the moment of creation when we did it.”
Radio stations played this with different degrees of editing. The offending lines are “Would she go down on you in a theater” and “Are you thinking of me when you f–k her.” Some stations played a version that completely eliminated “down” and “f–k,” while others left in “down” and only cut a little of “f–k.”It took a degree of courage for Alanis to sing these lines, and it was her producer Glen Ballard who offered the crucial encouragement. Said Alanis: “I thought, This is exactly how I feel, but I don’t want to hurt anybody. Glen just said, You have to do this.”
Morissette didn’t have a record deal when she recorded this song, and had a hard time finding any takers when she shopped it along with “Hand In My Pocket” and “Perfect” as a demo for the Jagged Little Pill album. The only major label to show interest was Madonna’s Maverick Records, whose 22-year-old A&R man Guy Oseary got very excited when he heard it. He signed her to Maverick in a deal that worked out rather well for the label when the album became one of the best-sellers of the ’90s.
This won Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal. Jagged Little Pill also won for Best Rock Album and Album of the Year. Along with Bruce Springsteen and U2, Morissette became the only artist to win for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album in the same year. ￼
Dave Navarro (guitar) and Flea (bass) from The Red Hot Chili Peppers played on this. Flea explained to Bass Player magazine: “It was very instinctive – I showed up, rocked out, and split. When I first heard the track, it had a different bassist and guitarist on it; I listened to the bass line and thought, That’s some weak s–t! It was no flash and no smash! But the vocal was strong, so I just tried to play something good.”On organ is Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, who came in for one session when Morissette and Ballard were working on the album. He played on six tracks total. His payment: dinner.
This song propelled Morissette to international stardom, but fame turned out to be a jagged little pill. When she became recognized just about everywhere she went, it ruined one of her favorite pursuits: people-watching. After about 18 months of touring an promotion, she was exhausted. She took a trip to India to get centered and released her next album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, in 1998.
Morissette never sang a sanitized version, either in the studio or live. When she performed it on TV, producers often asked her to change the lyrics, but she never did, figuring it was better to sing her truth and have it muted than to censor herself.
This is often considered a revenge song, but Morissette says that was never the motivation. “The context is important,” she told Spotify. “I didn’t know that many people would be hearing the song. I didn’t think the whole planet would be hearing it. I was writing it so I didn’t get sick. I was writing it to get it out of my body, the same way I would speak to a therapist or my best friend. If I didn’t speak about it, I would have gotten sick. It was very cathartic. I thought that writing songs with these subject matters in them would mean I wouldn’t have to talk to human beings. But having sung ‘You Oughta Know’ countless times over the years, the relationship itself was still tinged with pain, and I quickly came to see that the process of writing these songs was very cathartic, but it wasn’t healing – I still had to interact with human beings to resolve things.”