You Oughta Know

Album: Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Charted: 22 13

Songfacts®:

  • 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 a Songfacts 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • 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.
  • In America, this song blasted over the airwaves late in the summer of 1995, creating quite a buzz for Morissette. Because of its cold vocal open, DJs had to be quick and creative when talking it up (no dead air... keep the music moving), a problem compounded by her six syllables. Talking over the end was also verboten - the outro is also a cold vocal.

    Many listeners ended up in record stores looking for the song, only to find it wasn't for sale, a common gambit in mid-'90s music marketing to increase album sales. The only way to own the song was on the Jagged Little Pill album, which ended up selling over 16 million copies at a time when albums were going for about $15 a pop.

    Keeping the single off the market made the song ineligible for the Hot 100, but in July 1995 it made #1 on the Modern Rock chart, and in September it peaked at #13 on the Airplay chart. The same tactic was employed on the next single, "Hand In My Pocket," which in October made #1 Modern Rock and #15 Airplay. Jagged Little Pill was selling about a million copies a month, a trend that continued throughout 1996. Morissette's Grammy performance of "You Oughta Know" happened in February that year and was used as the B-side of "Ironic," which climbed to #4 on the Hot 100 in April. "You Learn" was then released as a single, again with the Grammy performance of "You Oughta Know" on the flip; it went to #6 in July, finally winding down a calendar year of Alanis that was marketed with masterful precision.
  • Morissette performed a slow version of this at the 1996 Grammy Awards. The show was on a 7-second delay so they could bleep out the word "f--k." The uncensored version of the Grammy performance was released as the B-side of "You Learn" in 1996.
  • 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."
  • This song gained a lot of exposure when Morissette performed it on the MTV Video Music Awards and on Saturday Night Live.
  • Recording this without a label deal gave Morissette a degree of freedom. "We were so completely untethered from the mainstream - no record company, no supervision - so we were all really just doing it to please ourselves," Glen Ballard told Songfacts. "I had no idea where or when it would come out. I knew I had a brilliant artist in the studio with me and that's all I cared about. We weren't listening to stuff to try to make it sound like what was on the radio."
  • It never reached Taylor Swift level, but Alanis has gotten considerable musical inspiration from past relationships, with this song being the most famous example. She became sexually active when she was 14, although being Catholic, she held off on intercourse until she was 19. Many of her physical relationships were with older men, since she felt incompatible with guys her own age. Her song "Hands Clean" deals with one of these relationships.
  • An alternate version of "You Oughta Know" known as the "Jimmy The Saint Blend" is listed as the last track on the album. Following some silence, a hidden a cappella track called "Your House" comes on, in which Morissette describes snooping around a guy's house without permission. There were rumors that "Your House" describes the events that led her to write "You Oughta Know," but that one is about a different relationship.
  • This song is a storyline in the 2002 "The Terrorist Attack" episode of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. On the show, Larry David tries to get Alanis to tell him who the song is about, swearing he'll keep the secret. She ends up whispering it in his ear, and it doesn't take long for Larry to pass it on.
  • Beyoncé covered the song during her 2009 I Am... World Tour and performed part of it at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
  • Speaking with Parade in a 2012 interview, Morissette said she never tires of performing this song, as "it's a great vehicle to channel through any rage or pent-up energy from that day."
  • In a 2015 Entertainment Weekly interview, Morissette pondered why so many men wanted to stake their claim on a tune that was far from complimentary.

    "You know you don't sound like the greatest guy in the world, right?" she said. "I didn't write it to get back. Everybody called it the perfect revenge song, but that's not what it was. It's a devastated song, and in order to pull out of that despondency, being angry is lovely. I think the movement of anger can pull us out of things. Fifty-five people can take credit for that song, and I'm always curious about why they're doing it. But Dave is the most public about it."
  • This was used on several TV shows, including:

    The Office ("A Benihana Christmas" - 2006): sung by Kevin accompanied by Darryl on the synthesizer.
    30 Rock ("Episode 210" - 2008)
    Degrassi: The Next Generation ("Never Ever: Part 1" - 2012)
    Bob's Big Burgers ("My Big Fat Greek Bob" - 2013)

    The song also features in the 1999 comedy Holy Smoke, starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, and the 2006 comedy-drama The Break-Up, starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston.
  • With this song, Morissette disintegrated the squeaky-clean image she cultivated in her native Canada with her first two dance-pop-oriented albums. "This record came from a place in me I had to release," she told MOJO in 1995. "A lot of the anger comes from the fact that I didn't face it, out of fear, the whole Pollyanna approach I had when I was younger. I denied myself any reveling in my darker side. But as soon as I started writing, I came to terms with it."
  • The singer quickly became frustrated when the provocative line "Would she go down on you in a theater" became the song's biggest talking point. "That one line being focused on so much in the media was a misrepresentation of why it was written," she told Q magazine in 1996. "It says a lot about how society may not have evolved as much as I thought, that it still sees sexual references as taboo. It was written from a desperate, dark, almost pathetically sad place within my subconscious, a conversation I was having with my own psyche - it's a line as potent as any other on the record."
  • For mellow coffeehouse listening, Morissette released a toned-down version on the 10th anniversary acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill in 2005. It was sold exclusively at Starbucks for the first six months. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • In May 2018, the musical Jagged Little Pill, based on songs from the album, debuted to favorable reviews at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Written by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, the story follows the struggles of a suburban family in Connecticut. "You Oughta Know" is performed in Act II by Lauren Patten, who portrays Jo, a love interest of the family's daughter.
  • Some armed men threatened Alanis Morissette while she was working on Jagged Little Pill and the singer almost lost all the work she had done for the record. Speaking to Alex Jones and Gethin Jones on BBC's The One Show, she said:

    "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. 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 lay down with my backpack and thought they'll take that on the way out but they didn't. It was so fortuitous and I'm happy to still be here."

Comments: 35

  • Katy from Atkinson , NhAgree with Jamie
  • Jamie from Cabot, ArThis song also provided one of the funniest misheard lyrics ever- "It's not fair to deny me of the cross-eyed baby that you gave to me..."
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnThe cuss words are the best part of the song. It's Alanis's most beloved anthem but she has written stronger songs since.
  • Tracy from Tulsa, OkThe day she found happiness with herself was the day her career died.

    Still love her though.
  • Joe from Cornwall, NyThe 5-track EP by 1000 Mona Lisas has their cover of You Oughta Know hidden at the end. It's kinda cool. I believe it was released only a few months after JLP.
  • Alexandre from Santos, BrazilAlanis has got to work hard to compare herself to Joni Mitchell...Alanis sucks! Alexandre Albertoni, Santos, Brazil.
  • Kate from Burnaby, CanadaOooh, this song is great for singing at the top of your lungs. Preferably on your balcony when you know your neighbours can hear you.
  • Bertrand from Paris, FranceAlanis Morissette's debut sent shock waves through the music industry. No pop singer had ever laid bare the anger and pain of a relationship gone bad quite so explicitly. "You Oughta Know" clearly touched a nerve and led audiences into the complex, intricate songcraft of the phenomenally successful [b] Jagged Little Pill [b] album.

  • Jenney from Brownwood, Tx"Morissette performed a slow version of this at the 1996 Grammys. The show was on a 7-second delay so they could bleep out the word "f--k."

    I saw this performance. It was a very heart-felt, emotional performance, very very very very well done! She cried and so did I - I had recently gone through a divorce that left me feeling much as she felt in this song.
  • Dominick from New York, NyAs they say, and as Angel mentioned, "Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned."
  • Selena from Griffin, GaRock On Alannis!!!!!
  • Ed from Incognito, IlLittle known fact: Allanis was once on Ed McMahon's Star Search
  • Scott from Palm Desert, CaVery powerful song. Alanis poured her heart out on this. Sadly she has never been able to top it or even come close although her other music is o.k.
  • Shay from Bridgeton, MoAlanis used to be on a show on Nickelodeon called "You Can't Do That On Television!" She was also a well known "pop singer" in Canada before she hit here in the US.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScWhen this came out I was about 6 or 7 years old. My mom and sister both listened to Little Jagged Pill, and at the time I didn't get the lines "Would she go down on you in a theater" and "Are you thinking of me when you f--k her." I get those lines now that i'm older and know more than I did then.
  • Vanessa from Grand Blanc, Miwell this is directed towards Dirk of nashville...her parents let her date him cuz of course they wouldnt have all that money coming in if it werent for her!
  • Blair from Peterborough, Canadai heard this song was about Mike Peluso, the hockey player
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnWhat sort of sh*t parents would allow their 16 year old daughter to "go out with" a 31 year old man? Didn't somebody--Mom, Dad, Uncle Fred, Grandma-- think to take the gentleman aside and suggest he focus his romantic feelings on someone who's already had a chance to grow up?
  • Christine from Sunderland, EnglandApparantly the guy who she's singing about is the same guy who's house she goes to in the hidden track on jagged little pill. not sure if it's true.
  • Ron from Malone, NyDuring the Grammy awards broadcast in Canada, they didn't bleep out the F word. Rock on Canada!!!
  • Kathy from N-u-l, EnglandThe chorus of this was used in Weird Al Yankovich's "Alternative Polka", but sung quite a lot faster
  • Richard from Newport, Isle Of Wight, EnglandDennis of Remeoville, Illinois, is winding you all up. This song was never the state song of Mississippi. The state song of Mississippi is "Go Mississippi" by William Houston Davis, who was born in Oklahoma in 1914 but moved to Mississippi during WWII. As if a song called "You Oughta Know" about a failed love affair would have been made a state song! And if they were going to change their state song, perhaps they would have picked a slightly more famous Mississippian songwriter than Glen Ballard: for instance John Lee Hooker, Faith Hill, Bo Diddley or Sam Cooke. They might do well to steer clear of infamous wife-beater Ike Turner, or paedophilic double wife-murderer Jerry Lee Lewis, however. Or Britney Spears.
  • Julie from Marquette, MiThis ENTIRE album was EXTREMELY overplayed when it was released...got very happy not to hear it everywhere anymore. NO offense Alannis...
  • Craig from Madison, WiOn the comment that it started a "copy cat faze of angry women singers." Alanis did not start that phase, nor would she claim to have. It goes back to the earliest recordings of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey in the 20's. Alanis just popularized it. Before she came along there was the Riot Grrl sub-revolution, and Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville"--one of the best albums of the last 25 years (which many have said inspired "Jagged Little Pill"). But towering above them all as the angriest broken heart song (male or female) is Marianne Faithfull's musical disembowelment of an unfaithful lover "Why'd Ya Do It." Not for the faint of heart. Coming out in 1979, it still is entirely frightening, and hasn't lost any of it's apocalyptic fury. Check it out. Due respect to Alanis, but it makes "You Oughta Know" sound merely pouty.
  • John Mark Lawler from Hattiesburg, Mscontrary to the message posted below, this was never even considered to be made the state song of MS. although it is a very good song and i like it very much there are many many much more talented singer songwriters from the state of MS than glenn ballard that would have been considered long before him.
  • Emma from Auckland, New Zealandyou can really feel her anger when she sings this.....its great.....can't wait for JLP re-release!!!
  • Kieran from Harlow, United StatesIt is about Dave Coulier, they broke up only a little while after this was performed.
  • Olivia from Los Angeles, Cawho'da thought this song was about that dude from full house???!!!
  • Rachel from Upper Darby, Pathis is such a great angry chick song....alanis morisette is really good at doing those...they're good to cool down to.
  • Scott Baddwin from Edmonton, EnglandAlso that on the you oughta know versian at the end if u let the cd play,the beginning actually uses a bass.
  • Marlow from Perth, Australiastarted a copy cat faze of angry women singers.....at least alanis sung it from the heart!
  • Holly from Pensacola, FlI remember that I played this song like 100 times a day after I found out that my ex-boyfriend had cheated on me with another girl. It felt really good at the time to take all my anger and frustration out, while singing this song and driving around in my car.
  • Angel from Tauranga, New Zealandyeah watch out guys.....beware of a woman scorned..
  • Dennis from Romeoville, IlSince Glen Ballard is originally from Mississippi, the state legislature made this the state song in honor of a Mississippi boy doing good. However, none of the legislatures knew exactly what the lyrics were. When a public uproar occurred as angry parents said a song with the F word in the lyrics should not be the state song, they revoked the law that made it the state song.
  • David from Modesto, Cawell this song should be a lesson to all men evrywhere dont mess with your girl or she will sing about you and make you look really bad.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Best Band Logos

Best Band LogosSong Writing

Queen, Phish and The Stones are among our picks for the best band logos. Here are their histories and a design analysis from an expert.

Meshell Ndegeocello

Meshell NdegeocelloSongwriter Interviews

Meshell Ndegeocello talks about recording "Wild Night" with John Mellencamp, and explains why she shied away from the spotlight.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. JonesSongwriter Interviews

The Stax legend on how he cooked up "Green Onions," the first time he and Otis Redding saw hippies, and if he'll ever play a digital organ.

Kiss

KissFact or Fiction

Kiss is the subject of many outlandish rumors - some of which happen to be true. See if you can spot the fakes.

Black Sabbath

Black SabbathFact or Fiction

Dwarfs on stage with an oversize Stonehenge set? Dabbling in Satanism? Find out which Spinal Tap-moments were true for Black Sabbath.