My next 90’s Alternative song selection is You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette, which was released in 1994 on the album Jagged Little Pill. It achieved a top 3 spot on the Active Rock Charts, top 7 spot on the Contemporary Hit Radio Charts, and top 1 spot on the Modern Rock Charts. It was also a chart topping hit in many other countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Alanis Morissette won the Grammies for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for this song as well. Also worth noting is that Flea and Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chili Peppers played the guitar and bass parts for this song (and I feel like the bass part is a true standout here).
I think we can safely say that Alanis is not too pleased with how her previous relationship ended. The theme of someone leaving you behind for another person and not giving any, or very little, thought to the damage they might cause is an idea that I think people who have had tough breakups can relate to. Sure, maybe they found someone great who makes them happier than their old lover could, but what about the person they abandoned and left all alone? Her animosity is apparent in the song from the sharpness and attitude that she gives to her vocals, which I think is one of the main components that makes this song stand out. Alanis has a distinct vocal sound in all her work that separates her from other artists. It isn’t as clean as some other female artists, but her specific style adds a certain amount of emotion and realism that other artists might lack.
The song begins with just soft-spoken vocals over a light simple drum beat. Here the singer talks about how she’s initially happy for the man who broke up with her in spite of what happened. The song then moves in to the first verse, where the vocals become a bit more heavy and her tone is becoming more agitated. The drumming becomes louder, and a guitar and bass begin to play as well. The lyrics now begin to show that she is not okay with the way she has been abandoned. Finally the song moves in to the chorus where the music and vocals are the loudest and roughest, with a driving, sometimes wailing guitar. The lyrics tell us that she wants her old lover to know the pain he caused her, which he should not be able to forget so easily (as in the title: ‘You Oughta Know’).
I think the tone and feel of the song is one of its strongest assets. The song feels like it mirrors the process of grief someone might go through after a bad breakup. The sort of initial calm where one tries to stay rational, then the slow build up of emotion as you start to think about the situation more, and then finally the outpouring of emotion as one realizes that they are not okay with what someone else did to them. The song also fluctuates between these levels of intensity, as one might do as they go through the highs and lows of trying to rationalize a relationship ending.
One of the great mysteries since this song was released is who is she singing about? In 2008 comedian and Full House veteran Dave Coulier said that the song was about him, but Morissette will not officially say who the song is about to this day. Still, the idea of the song being about Uncle Joey does seem a bit funny (to be fair, his ‘lovable’ Full House persona may not be what he is like in real life). Regardless of who the song is about, it’s a song with a great emotional feel to it, which fit in well with other 90’s Alternative Songs. I also think this song is unique among Morissette’s hit. Many of her later songs feel like they are going for a more easy listening feel and less of a dark and grungy feel that is present here.