Alanis Morissette's album 'Jagged Little Pill' was released 20 years ago. Back then it taught a group of teenage girls how powerful and important a woman's voice could be, writes Rebecca Shaw.
All of us have moments where we hear a song that takes us back to certain periods in our lives. It can immediately remind us of soaring feelings we once experienced, of tiny moments, or even of an entire sprawling era. If I hear Sister Hazel’s 'All For You', I am instantly transported back 15 years to the Uni Club in Toowoomba, and the sick feeling that came knowing that hearing that particular song meant the lights were about to come on and the true horror of where we were on a Wednesday night and what we were doing was about to be exposed under the brightness of reality. But other music has a much more positive effect. Earlier this year, Alanis Morissette’s album 'Jagged Little Pill' had it’s 20th anniversary; and I had my first anniversary of feeling incredibly old. In order to celebrate the occasion, Morissette will be releasing a limited collector’s edition of 'Jagged Little Pill' at the end of October, including the remastered (whatever that means) album, acoustic album version, and a recording of a 1995 live gig.
'Jagged Little Pill'remains a very important album for me. It was released when I was about 13 and in Grade 8. Just after the release, my grade went on a school trip, which involved driving on a bus for 12 hours from Toowoomba, in regional Queensland, down to Canberra. As an adult, the thought of spending 12 hours on a bus with a bunch of 13-year-olds only to end up in Canberra is one of the most horrifying experiences I can think of, but as a 13-year-old it was pretty great (except for the part where we all got food poisoning at once, thanks Canberra). Many (many) years later, most of what makes that trip so memorable was the time on the bus. And that’s because one of my friends had a portable CD player and a hot, fresh copy of an album by a woman we had been hearing murmurings about.
It was time to meet Alanis.
For the next 12 hours, and then also the entire trip, and the 12 hours home, we listened to 'Jagged Little Pill' over and over again. The boys at the back of the bus would try to drown our singing out with boos and renditions of 'Lump' by another new band, the Presidents of the United States of America, but they were no match for a group of teen girls filled with the raw emotion and power of songs like 'You Oughta Know'. It was one of the first times I can remember of a group of girls uniting to do what they want, to be loud, and to drown out people who wanted them to be quiet.
Alanis and her songs made me fall in love with hearing women sing the things they feel
At the time (and for the two years of 'Jagged Little Pill' being played everywhere that followed), the album gave me these feelings of power. I wasn’t cool, aware, or old enough to already be into the riot grrrl music scene that was developing at the same time. A lot of girls like me didn’t have access to that music, but we had access to the incredibly popular music Alanis has made. Then came the slightly later addition of No Doubt’s 'Just a Girl', which resonated so deeply with me as the only girl in a family with three brothers who were treated differently to me. These songs spoke to me directly; lying on my bed and listening to women express a vast array of emotions, including anger and pain, which I hadn’t heard before. 'You Oughta Know' was the first time I had ever heard a woman sing the f-word. They were songs that were unapologetically about feelings, and about pushing back against the world.
As I got a bit older and started to discover different music, 'Jagged Little Pill'directly led me down a very particular path. Alanis was a gateway drug to another world full of feminist ideas and women singing out. I found artists like PJ Harvey, Ani Difranco, the Breeders, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Missy Elliot, Tori Amos, Salt n Pepa, and Hole.
It’s not that they are all musically similar. It’s more that Alanis and her songs made me fall in love with hearing women sing the things they feel. She made me realise how powerful and important it could be. To make sound, to take space reserved for others, to create music because you need to. To unashamedly be vulnerable, expressive, emotional, to sing about desire and heartbreak and anger, and to always, always sing loudly and let the world hear your voice - even if the boys at the back want you to be quiet.