The (totally unironic) oral history of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (EW story)
“There was no particular vision for the label at that point as much as there was to begin a label and have our toe in the water of pop culture. We had become successful, which was quite amazing, because boutique record labels or vanity labels were notoriously not successful. Most of the major labels, maybe all, had passed on her. And they didn’t pass on her because they didn’t think she was good, some probably thought she was great. They just didn’t know what to do with her. We didn’t either, but we knew she was great. We had no idea if we’d be successful.
My recollection is first hearing the song “Perfect” and drawn into hearing these lyrics that for me, having grown up with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and Joni Mitchell, there was a voice, and it was so incredible, it constantly brought tears to my eyes when I heard these songs. We believed that “You Oughta Know” would make the statement about who she was, and to be frank, with her unwillingness to edit and censor the lyrics, we were not wildly optimistic that it would be a radio staple globally. But we knew that those who heard it would know there was a voice and something very special. I went and played it for Kevin Weatherly, and there is a funny story there. I went to meet with Kevin to play “You Oughta Know,” and I was waiting in the lobby of KROQ, and after waiting in the lobby for 20 minutes or so, I looked inside the CD case, and there was nothing in the case. So when Kevin was ready to see me, I had to vamp. So I asked him “Why don’t we go have lunch?” I told him there was no CD in the case and that they were going to bring it over to me. But as a result, I had the chance to talk to him about her. Kevin is brilliant not just at playing records but understanding pop culture, and understanding where people are in the zeitgeist. We knew that she was a voice of a generation, we just didn’t know if anybody would ever hear it. That’s how it is with poetry and that’s how it is with great artists. I mean, who knows if Bob Dylan would break in 2015? So I got to talk to Kevin and played him “You Oughta Know” and left it with him, and when I got in the car to come back to my office, it was on the radio.
Howie Klein, who was the head of Reprise, had asked me to come over and talk to him about Alanis because they were not in the loop and they were Maverick’s partner. I came over and told him the story of how we were positioning “You Oughta Know,” and the idea was to have people hear about it and discover her and hear her point of view. We were not censoring the lyrics, so it’s unlikely it would be a giant radio hit but a song that people would find and discover. I played it for him, and my recollection is he was the first person to say to me, “Your plan is totally off.” He insisted that everyone was going to play this record, and he was right. We shipped 12,500 records, and in a hotel in Hamburg, Alanis said “When my album goes to number one, I’m going to shave my head.” And we were like, “When your album goes number one? We’re shipping 12,000 records! Let’s hope we sell 100,000!” Nobody knew how big it would be. There was a member of her management team who, after hearing the record finished, said to her, “This record is going to pay your rent. You’re going to be OK because of this work, and you’ll probably sell 200 or 300 thousand copies of your first record.” That was being presented as great news, because she was a square peg going into a round hole and she wasn’t playing the game. Madonna was personally invested. Maybe not in the beginning, but by virtue of Alanis being on Maverick, and Madonna having a new record that we were able to leverage to get people to listen to Alanis and understand that we had the resources to move it, she indirectly had a great deal to do with it.