And what it all comes down to is this: Every generation has its warrior woman of rock & roll.

The ’70s looked to the earth-mother muse Carole King, who spun her friendly, folkie yarns about natural women and tumbling skies on Tapestry to the tune of 10 million albums. In the mid-’80s, Madonna wore her bra on the outside and suddenly a new religion was born. Like a Virgin? Yeah, right, said the 9 million people who bought her fishnet fantasy hook, line, and sinker.

So what does it take to outperform both those albums — not to mention the records of Aretha, Janis, Mariah, Whitney, and every other female pop performer — in the ’90s? Here’s a hint: She’s broke but she’s happy, she’s here but she’s really gone, and she hasn’t got it all figured out just yet.

Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, with 14 million copies sold (that averages out at around 175,000 copies a week — for 80 weeks!), is on track to become one of the top three albums in recording history (trailing only Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Eagles’ Greatest Hits 1971-1975).

All of which raises a question: How could a goofy-grinned, Rapunzel-haired former teen disco queen who once opened for Vanilla Ice beat out Elvis Presley and the Beatles? Well, after you write off the contagion-of-success factor (Aunt Irene just had to buy that Atlantis what’s-her-name’s album for all her nieces), you get into the realm of pure zeitgeist. Let’s face it: Even if you think Morissette, 22, sounds like one of the Chipmunks in a really bad mood, you have to admit that Jagged Little Pill says a great deal about where we are right now. If you have your doubts, just log onto the Internet, where a search on the name ”Alanis Morissette” lands something like 5,000 sites.

What’s the deal? At a time when teens and twentysomethings are going in for multiple piercings and tattoos just to feel something, is it any wonder Morissette’s angry growl would catch on? And should we really be surprised, in this age of confessional TV talk, that there’d be a market for Alanis’ no-details-spared view of sexuality — she did what in a movie theater?

The album’s also fueled by a driving beat you can dance to and oddly compelling videos (like the one of Morissette lip-synching badly to her ”Head Over Feet”). Who knows? It might just be karmic payback for getting slimed time and again on You Can’t Do That on Television, that cheesy Nickelodeon program she starred in as a 10-year-old. (Amazing how quickly — and quietly — those reruns were whisked off the air, isn’t it?)

Whatever the case, Morissette, who heads back into the studio after wrapping up her intergalactic concert tour in Honolulu this month, has clearly nailed a cultural taproot, and the funny thing is, she’s done it by incorporating elements of many of the women rockers who have come before her. She’s got Carole King’s hippie dress code down, Janis Joplin’s tortured wailing, Mariah Carey’s diva-next-doorishness, and Madonna’s in-your-face sexuality. In fact, underneath it all, maybe Morissette is just an old-fashioned grrrl. Now, wouldn’t that be ironic?