Alanis Morissette’s angst-ridden “You Oughta Know” was the first hit for the Canadian singer/songwriter. It was also a big slap across the face to some idiot cad who had the nerve to break Alanis’s heart. Whatever this guy did to her, listeners thought, she got him back ten-fold by exposing the intimacies of their relationship, right down to the promises he made and broke and the kinky things the couple did in movie theaters.
Naturally, as soon as “You Oughta Know” hit airwaves, everyone in their right mind wondered who the song was about. Oh, how I wish you guys could have been there the first time I heard the rumor that Alanis penned “You Oughta Know” — the ultimate hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-dumped tune — about comic actor Dave Coulier.
“Dave Coulier?” That dufus from Full House?” I cried. Looking back, I know wasn’t the right thing to say. Dave seems to be a fine man; both Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen gravitated toward him when they were kids and they grew up levelheaded. I guess I expected the guy who devastated Alanis to be more, I don’t know, heartbreaker-y. It was hard to imagine Uncle Joey lovin’ them and leavin’ them, but, what do I know of heterosexuality? And to my credit, the only famous Canadian people I know are lesbians.
So I read with interest last week that Dave confirmed to People magazine, after all these years, that the song really truly is about him. Dave recounts hearing the song on the radio for the first time:
I said, “Wow, this girl is angry.” And then I said, “Oh man, I think it’s Alanis.” … I listened to the song over and over again, and I said, “I think I have really hurt this person.”
Alanis was hardly the first musician to write a break-up song about someone famous, and she won’t be the last. Why? Because heartbreak makes hits, kids. And it’s even more interesting for listeners if we know both parties involved in the mess.
Go back a few decades to 1977 and try not to wince when you hear Fleetwood Mac’s angry “Go Your Own Way.” Isn’t it even better knowing Lindsay Buckingham’s bitterness is about band mate Stevie Nicks? Don’t worry Stevie retaliated with the seething “Silver Spring,” a song that has her vowing: “I’ll follow you down/To the sound/Of my voice/Will haunt you.”
In 1977, the songs were released together on a 45-record. You could flip them back and forth to hear both sides of the break-up. Fun!
Two decades later, No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani worked out her break-up blues over bandmate Tony Kanal in the bands’s 1995 hit, “Don’t Speak.”
Sleater-Kinney is another band to suffer a romantic break-up (between frontwomen Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein). The song “One More Hour,” off 1997’s Dig Me Out, is understood by fans and critics to be Tucker’s lament of the relationship’s end, though neither woman has confirmed.
In 2002, Justin Timberlake sent a musical middle finger to his ex Britney Spears with “Cry Me A River.”
But what’s the most famous kiss-off song of all? It might be Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” A lot of the interest has to do with the song’s mystery man. For years, the song has been speculated to be about either Hollywood gigolo Warren Beatty or rock’s most famous womanizer, Mick Jagger.
“You’re So Vain” is filled with clues — for instance, Carly sings about jetting “down to Nova Scotia to watch a total eclipse of the sun.” Would it interest you to know that Beatty’s mom was raised in Nova Scotia? Or, do you sway toward voting Jagger because he sings uncredited on the song’s choruses? For the record, Beatty thinks it’s about him. Carly is keeping mum.
Which is your favorite break-up song? Is it about a famous person? Do you suspect a kiss-off song by your favorite band or singer is about someone famous?