Alanis Morissette is one of those people who has done just about everything. She has been a teen dance-pop queen and an indie rock darling. She has put out nine studio albums and three live albums and sold over 60 million copies worldwide.
And she even acted as a tween on a silly Canadian kids’ program and has even portrayed God in a major motion picture.
On top of that, she has survived an eating disorder, been robbed at gunpoint, had her house burn down, and been engaged to Ryan Reynolds.
More than anything…
Morisette has been an actress and a singer-songwriter for decades. Her huge breakout success, 1995’s Jagged Little Pill, produced six big singles and propelled her to stardom.
While that was nearly 30 years ago, most people will still remember her bounding across the stage with total abandon and whirling like a Dervish. Her songs have embodied the emotion and struggle of a life fully lived.
So, what are the best Alanis Morissette songs of all time? Let’s take a look.
“I know you’re gonna dig this!”
While Morissette blew up in 1995, she was a well-known teen star well before that. At least in Canada! Under the name Alanis, she dropped her first self-titled album in 1991, and the single “Too” Hot hit the charts right away.
This dance pop/new jack swing track featured Morissette near-rapping and singing a catchy, pop-infused chorus over a heavy hip-hop style beat. Her two brothers also provided backing vocals, making it a true family affair.
Starting out hot…
“Too Hot” became an instant Alanis Morissette hit song and climbed the Canadian charts to #14. Although, it didn’t chart at all in the US or anywhere else, for that matter. But, it did give the 16-year-old Morissette a foot in the door of the music industry that would eventually pay off in a big way.
Check out the video to see a young, big-haired Morissette dancing in a leather jacket like a combination of Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul.
Fast forward 11 years, and we find an Alanis Morissette who has been through a lot of life experiences and big changes in musical style.
The single “Precious Illusions” comes from the third album of the Alanis Morissette era (using her full name, I mean) and was the second single off 2002’s Under Rug Swept. This song shows an older and much more mature Morissette reflecting on her relationships.
This song hit #20 on the US Adult Top 40 and made #4 on Canada’s charts. It is poppy and catchy, with a sweet, hooky chorus over a moderate-speed dance beat. But, it’s Morissette’s lyrical maturity that makes the song stand out.
“Precious Illusions” is a song about Morissette’s childhood fantasies and expectations colliding with adult relationships. The idea of a fairy-tale romance is being compared with reality.
However, there’s still some optimism here. Some would say that is typical of Morissette, no matter how dark her lyrics may go.
In the same year, and from the same album, “Hands Clean” is another of Alanis Morissette’s songs that shines. As the first single from 2002’s Under Rug Swept, it went to #1 in Canada and New Zealand while peaking at #23 in the US Billboard Hot 100.
The song has a smooth, poppy, adult contemporary kind of vibe that made it instantly radio-friendly. Furthermore, it got to #3 on the US Billboard Adult Top 40. It also features lyrics of a more adult subject, one that is controversial and complex.
“Hands Clean” is about a relationship between the narrator and an older man in the music industry. It seems to represent an illicit affair (possibly because of age statutes) between an empowered younger woman and an older man, “technically” her employee.
This could easily be a real-life episode from Alanis Morissette’s personal saga. At the same time, as a piece of art, it could simply be an imagined scenario. Or else something Morissette witnessed as a part of the music industry.
In any case, Morissette has kept her silence on the truth, allowing the older man to keep his hands clean.
When Jagged Little Pill dropped in 1995, Alanis Morissette became an instant success and a household name. This album gave her six singles, a few turning into major hits, and solidified her place in music history. The album title came from the lyrics to “You Learn,” the fourth single on it.
Swallow it down, like a jagged little pill…
“You Learn” is a slow pop-rock ballad with a cool rhythm perfect for radio. The lyrics, not too subtly, have Morissette suggesting that gaining life experience makes you the person you are.
“You live, you learn,” she tells us while recommending “getting your heart trampled on” and “biting off more than you can chew.”
A glimpse of greatness…
While the original video used the album version of the song, a second video was released for this single in 1996. This one features a livelier, rockier version of the song and a video of Morissette giving it her all on stage.
It features Alanis performing with her band before it devolves into a pie fight with drummer Taylor Hawkins and others. And for many, this was the video that realized the epitome of the Alanis Morissette phenomenon.
Keeping your head over your feet is pretty much the usual state of things. However, this slow ballad references falling for someone head over feet, which means something a lot more romantic than ass over teakettle.
Showing her range…
“Head Over Feet” was a hit in Canada, where it spent 8 weeks at #1 on the charts, in the UK, and in the US Adult Top 40, where it also took the #1 spot. This represented the breadth of Morissette’s repertoire and showed that she was able to make hit rock songs as well as soulful ballads.
With lyrics like, “And don’t be surprised if I love you for all that you are / I couldn’t help it / It’s all your fault,” the song is a thank you from an appreciative Morissette to her best friend and romantic partner. And that struck a tone that just about anyone was able to get behind.
Next in my rundown of the Best Alanis Morissette Songs of All Time, after the explosion that was Jagged Little Pill, it took three more years for Alanis Morissette to release more music. The first of which, the single “Uninvited,” was released on the soundtrack for the film “City of Angels” in 1998.
Even though it wasn’t released as an official in the US, it was still a big hit that got to #7 in Canada. And is one that Morissette often played at concerts.
This song certainly sounds cinematic…
Written in a minor key with interesting percussion and ambient sounds that create a haunting atmosphere. It’s a slow, soulful burn to a big crescendo.
Also, it showcases Alanis Morissette’s vocal abilities more than most of her other songs. It proved that she’s more than a rock or pop singer. And that she really has lungs.
Lyrically, “Uninvited” isn’t as easy to understand as many of Morissette’s other songs. It’s not clear whether the target of the song is truly blocked from entering her life. Or if this is a love song to someone who has penetrated her defenses despite herself. Maybe we’ll never know.
Although, it was considered her sophomore album in her newer incarnation. A lot was expected from this album, and it ended up selling like hot cakes. One reason was the first single, “Thank U.”
Unlike so much of Alanis Morisette’s musical work, this slow, soulful pop song is a love song to herself. It was written upon return from a spiritual trip to India, which she thanks first in the song.
The video also shows a wide-eyed naked Morissette blinking into the world as though she has been re-born. This is a song about gratitude and self-improvement. And, with her signature singing style, Morissette does something tricky here.
Her singing isn’t all that clear, leaving listeners to insert the things they’re thankful for. Thank u for one of the best Alanis Morissette songs of all time.
Now we’re moving into the biggest Alanis Morissette songs. The last three songs on my list are undoubtedly the biggest hits that Alanis Morissette has ever had. And all three of them were released as singles from the smash hit album Jagged Little Pill in 1995.
The lead single was the angsty, or even openly angry, “You Oughta Know.” Only Morissette knows who the song was directed at. But, a lot of her ex’s must have felt more than a bit burned when they heard it.
A song that let everyone know…
The song is one of her fastest, heaviest tracks with an alt-rock feel and snarly vocals. The guitar and bass work were also done complements of Dave Navarro and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The combination of the rocking tune, the jilted lyrics, and the raw emotion propelled this song up to #6 in the charts in both Canada and the US.
A song that did make it to #1 in Canada surprisingly didn’t chart on the US Billboard Hot 100 is “Hand in My Pocket.” Released as the second single on Jagged Little Pill, this song was still a massive hit, reaching #1 on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.
While often misremembered as One Hand in my Pocket, “Hand in My Pocket” is a slow and steady pop-rock song. The music is basic with a steady beat, but you oughta know that it’s the vocals that make this song.
Showcasing her struggles…
Morissette uses a strange and sometimes jilting rhyme structure throughout the song. It’s the story of someone conflicted and struggling to find a place in life, just as Alanis Morissette was doing during this period.
But, while she has one hand in her pocket grounding her to reality, she has the other pulling her up to rise above it all. At least that’s one interpretation.
It could be that the third time’s a charm because “Ironic” was Alanis Morisette’s third single off her third studio album. Or, it could simply be that this song struck a chord with the world in 1995.
The video for the song show’s a cuter, more fun-loving side of Morissette after the anger-fuelled “You Oughta Know.” She drives in a car filled with her alternate personas through a snowy landscape before running out of fuel at the end.
But is that ironic or just bad planning?
There’s a lot of argument about what irony is and whether a “black fly in your Chardonnay” or “rain on your wedding day” are truly ironic. But it hardly matters. The song makes sense as a whole, using “ironic” to talk about unexpected or negative situations.
And people got it. That’s because this was Alanis Morissette’s most popular song. The song went to #1 in Canada and hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. The song is quirky, and both the singing and story-telling style developed here is echoed in much of Morissette’s later work.
Nothing ironic about that.
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The 10 Best Alanis Morissette Songs of All Time
There you have it – my list of the best songs by Alanis Morissette. Or, at the very least, this is a list of her biggest hits and most popular tracks. While many come from her Jagged Little Pill breakthrough album, she has released six more albums since then, including her Olive Branch album, released in 2022.
Her breakout success may never be replicated, but we should expect to continue to see great things from Morissette. In both her music and her acting work, she proves herself to be a soulful entertainer who puts all of herself into her work.
I wouldn’t be surprised if her best songs ever are not behind but ahead of her.
Until next time, let the music play.