Paula Abdul's signature song, this was the title track to her first album. Abdul was a former cheerleader and successful choreographer when she was signed to Virgin Records, who put a lot of resources into launching her music career. Paula was looking for the Minnesota Funk sound popularized by Prince, and she found it in Oliver Leiber, who was an unknown songwriter/producer living in Minnesota. His demo of "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" found Paula when she was choreographing the "Rich Man" video for Oliver's friend Paul Peterson, who recorded as "St. Paul."
After recording "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me," Oliver worked with Paula on another song: a tune he had written as "Small Town Girl." In an interview with Oliver Leiber, he said: "It was going to be about this girl I was dating from Fargo, North Dakota. It had a sort of innocence, and was very major. I played Paula this track, and she really dug it. She's like, 'Can you write something for me?' And, having spent a little time with her, and in the process of cutting vocals on 'The Way That You Love Me,' I got a sense of her personality, and this track ended up being 'Forever Your Girl.' It was the same spirit, a very sweet sort of major-y pop song, so it wasn't a large departure to go from 'Small Town Girl' to 'Forever Your Girl.' As all of us writers do, you try and crawl inside the artist and assume their personality, and try and write something that feels germane to them. So 'Forever Your Girl' was me writing to Paula's personality and perspective. I finished that and sent a demo, and they dug it."
Oliver Leiber is the son of Jerry Leiber from the famous Leiber and Stoller songwriting team, but if you think he coasted through the business on his pedigree, you'd be mistaken. Determined to make an impact outside of his father's influence, Oliver kept quiet about his famous father and worked his way up, living in a cramped apartment where he created tracks in his bedroom. The track that formed the basis for this song was a happy accident. Says Oliver: "That was a three-chord idea that came about by trying to show one of my five roommates what a sequencer was. It was very new back in '84-5, and I was showing him how you could record into the computer. So these three chords came out, and that became the basis of a track."
In 8 seasons as a judge on American Idol, Paula Abdul was by far the most forgiving panelist, frequently finding something nice to say about even the most dreadful performances. She seemed to understand what the contestants were going through, and they always appreciated her encouragement.
To understand why Paula found it so hard to eviscerate contestants Simon Cowell-style, take a look at her early recording session. The first track she recorded was "Knocked Out" in a session helmed by the famous producers LA Reid and Babyface. Her next sessions were with the unknown Oliver Leiber, first recording "'The Way That You Love Me," then "Forever Your Girl."
Oliver explains: "Paula needed encouragement - she struggled with her confidence, and she really needed someone who was very nurturing and very positive. Paula's first experience in the studio with a pair of hit producers that I won't mention had been very, very discouraging. They had basically told her, 'You can't sing, you can go home, we're gonna finish this song without you.' Like, you suck, get outta here, we'll finish this somehow. No need to keep singing and no need to come back.
That was her first experience on this record, song number one that she recorded. She was devastated, because she had confidence issues to begin with, knowing she wasn't the strongest singer. And to have these two very successful producers basically say, 'Don't bother to come back,' she was not in a very confident place. [’The Way That You Love Me’ was] the second song they were recording on the album, and they needed it to be a positive experience, or they were going to have a very damaged artist on their hands. I was fueled with gratitude for having this gig – it was my first gig – and also knowing that I needed to be a really positive person. So, no amount of hours were too long, no amount of takes were too many, and there was lots of cajoling and coaxing and joking. We were going to get this one way or the other."
Paula Abdul herself will tell you she isn't the greatest singer, but she certainly had star power. Leiber adds: "She's not the strongest vocalist, and everyone knew that. But when her voice is put in a certain setting, and when it's layered, it smoothes out and it has a definite sound. A lot of people really love the way she sounds on these records. She's not Chaka or Mariah or Christina, or any of those women who can blow, but she had a sound on those records that totally worked. Much like Madonna, she wasn't the strongest vocalist, but Paula was a tireless worker. She flew out to Minnesota with a vocal coach who was present for the vocals on all of the first sessions that I did with her, and if I couldn't get a word or a pitch or something, the coach would chime in with various techniques for pitch and breath control to help her sing: 'tell Paula to sing this vowel sound rather than that vowel sound.' There was a lot of help from this particular vocal coach to warm Paula up and to help her to deliver the vocals."
When it comes to Paula Abdul's persona on American Idol, Leiber says: "I understand where Paula's compassion and empathy and pathos comes from, because she can so relate to being the person having to work hard and struggle. She's got a tremendous amount of empathy for that reason, and the irony wasn't lost on me."
Like he did with "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me," Leiber sent this song in completed form to Los Angeles. Says Leiber: "Part of the deal that I struck with the studio that let me use their place (in Minnesota), I got the engineer to get a crack at actually doing the mixes, which he did. And they ended up wanting the same person to mix the whole record, so it did get re-mixed in Los Angeles. And I was flown out here and I remixed it with Keith Cohen, who ended up mixing the whole album. So those two songs were delivered and finished in Minneapolis. I ended up flying out here with the masters and remixing them at Larrabee with Keith Cohen."
Interview courtesy of Song Facts.