Oliver Leiber had already written "Forever Your Girl" and "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" for Paula Abdul when he got a frantic call from Gemma Corfield, who was the A&R head at Virgin Records. She needed one more song to complete the album.
Oliver says "My MPC60 had just shown up a day before, and that was supposed to be the new improved version of the Linn 9000. It was a brand new sequencer drum machine. I had programmed a two-bar groove bassline and drum part to learn the MPC60, nothing more. It was just like, Okay, let's program and, as we all do with new pieces of gear, sort of find your way around. So I had this groove sitting there, I could press play, and I had a bunch of titles that I had written down, because my car had broken down near a second-hand cheesy bookstore, and I had like four hours to kill. It was all just drug store novels, and I wrote down all these titles, because they were incredibly dramatic. It was like 'A Bloody Moon,' or 'Midnight Mistress,' just really over the top. I had this list in front of me, and I had Gemma on the phone, I had the two-bar groove right there, and I winged it, to be very honest. One of the titles jumped out at me, and it was 'Opposites Attract.' I was like, 'You know, I've got this idea and it's 'Opposites Attract,' and here's the groove,' and I was pretty much tap dancing. But I played her the groove and I spun an idea that maybe it could be a duet, and here's the melody over it. She was like, 'Okay, that sounds great! I love it! How fast can you do it?' Honestly, I probably could have said anything at that point, although in retrospect, when a record sells 15 million copies everybody comes out and tells how they A&R'd everything, but this was not a whole lot of A&Ring going on, to be quite honest. So I got the green light."
This song evolved into a duet with the duo The Wild Pair. Oliver Leiber explains: "I wrote it all from the perspective of one person singing it. It wasn't initially a duet. It was saying, 'I like this and you like that.' It was basically: I like potatoes, and you like po-tah-toes, all from one singer's perspective. But I had these two singers I had been working with - Marvin Gunn and Tony Christian. They're the guys that sang on Prince's "Kiss," and they were incredibly soulful funky singers that I had been using as part of my sound on the first two tracks I did with Paula, helping to preserve the Minneapolis sound, because they sounded very Prince-y and it really added something to Paula's vocals.
So I came up with the idea to make this a duet with those guys. I had the Wild Pair – as they were called – sing the whole song, and I finished it first with them as a complete song with them singing every line. Paula couldn't come back to Minnesota, so I flew to LA with this, and in the studio with Paula figured out what lines she would sing. And because their lines were all sung and covered, we could pick and choose which ones made sense. I always had the answer line, because they had sung the whole song.
I was sort of embarrassed by the way that one came out. I was really sure that I had completely missed the mark. I almost sent that one in with an apology – literally. Like, 'I'm really sorry I let you down. I thought this was gonna be good.' It's how I felt when I handed it in, because I really was making it all up as I went along. You know, it was a two-bar groove, there are no changes, there's no beat section, so it's all in how you do it and how it's arranged. And it was such a struggle to do in some ways that by the end of the process I was more in touch with the struggle than I was with what the end product turned out to be. I couldn't even appreciate whether it was good or not. I was exhausted and a little bummed."
In the video, the real Paula interacted with the animated MC Skat Kat. The concept of Paula dueting with a cat came from Anchors Aweigh, a movie where Gene Kelly dances with the mouse from Tom & Jerry. It won a Grammy for Best Music Video - Short Form.
The video was directed by Michael Patterson and his wife Candace Reckinger, who also created the MC Skat Kat character and animation. Patterson told Song Facts: "Gene Kelly loved it; he was a friend of Paula's. Gene was also an inspiration to Candace and I. There was an album - MC Skat Kat and the Stay Mob - we did two clips for that - 'Big Time' was pretty awesome." Patterson and Reckinger got their start in music videos when they created the iconic clip for a-ha's "Take On Me."
Forever Your Girl was Paula Abdul's first album, and it was wildly successful. About a year after the album came out, 5 singes had been released, with the last 3 - "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl" and "Cold Hearted" - all going to #1 in the US. ”Opposites Attract” was tapped as the next and final single, but Virgin Records wanted a remix of the song with a rap interlude, as that was the trendy thing to do in 1989.
Oliver Leiber was called back to do the remix and come up with the rap, which required finding a rapper. Says Leiber: "I used to listen to this local radio station in Minnesota that was the local R&B. It was a very low watt, small R&B station that was being broadcast out of North Minneapolis or whatever. And there was a DJ on there called Derrick 'Delite' Stevens. I just loved his voice. I never heard him rap or anything, but I had limited resources, and I didn't know a ton of rappers. So I got in touch with him and as it turned out he wrote rap. So I wrote my own version of the rap, we got together, and then I said, Okay, here's the happy honky version of the rap. Take these ideas, but put 'em down the way you would do it, because I know this is not really credible. So he took a lot of the spirit and some direct lines, and he had some of his own, and the rap came out of that collaboration. I think we recorded that at Paisley Park, out at Prince's place. Just sort of tagged it in there. Derrick turned out to be a good rapper, and he ended up making a whole record after that."
Listen to the remixed single compared with the album version of this song, and you'll hear very different instrumentation. Oliver explains why: "I second guessed that track so much, and when I came to LA, I got together with the keyboard player Jeff Lorber. I had him replace my bass line, my clavinet part, and my drum programming. So I had Lorber replace what I had done, because I had just totally lost confidence on it. So if you listen to the album version of 'Opposites Attract,' that's with Jeff Lorber's replacement parts on some of what I did. So a year or so down the line when it's coming to be a single, they call me up and they ask me if I would do a remix for a single. Well, now that Paula was a huge star, I wasn't worried about all the things that I was worried about before this album came out, I kind of heard it with different ears. And when I put up the original tracks that I had done, I went, That's pretty good. It was funkier and heavier and more open than what I ended up doing with Jeff. I love Jeff, and I basically forced him to play a bunch of parts that were in the style of a record he played on before. I was like, 'I love what you did on this record. Do this on 'Opposites.'' It wasn't his fault. But when I put up the original tracks, I went, 'There's my remix.' And it was what I had originally done. So the single version that was a hit, that's my original track. It wasn't broken, I had just lost confidence in it."
In 1991, perhaps egged on by the rap success of Bart Simpson and his hit "Do The Bartman," MC Skat Kat released the single "Skat Strut." Since it came 2 years after "Opposites Attract," the feline rapper failed to capitalize on Paula's momentum and the single tanked.
Interview courtesy of Song Facts.