This was written by Oliver Leiber, who despite being the son of Jerry Leiber of Leiber and Stoller fame, was an unknown producer living in Minnesota with five roommates. Thanks to Prince, Minnesota became a music mecca in the '80s, and that funk sound was what Paula Abdul was after on her first album.
Oliver made a demo of the song and his friend Paul Peterson played on it. Peterson recorded as "St. Paul" and was called to Los Angeles to make a video for his single "Rich Man," which was choreographed by - Paula Abdul. On a lunch break, Paula told Paul about her record deal and the sound she was looking for, and Peterson gave her a cassette with the demo of "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me." Paula loved it, and Oliver got his big break.
In our interview with Oliver Leiber, he told us: "I got a frantic call from a very high strung English lady named Gemma Corfield, who was head of A&R at Virgin Records. She grilled me, asked me who I was, what did I do, where did I come from, and was I a producer? And up to that point I had never produced anything in my life other than my demos, but I thought to myself, Well, yeah, I'm a producer. I produced this, right? And I said, 'Yes.' And that was the beginning of my involvement with Paula.
Gemma and Paula flew out to Minnesota to kind of check me out. They weren't 100 percent sure about who I was and if I was legitimate. I was completely unknown, and they wanted to see if I had a real studio to work in, so I got people to lend me a studio so it looked like I was really professional. It was really funny, because I had done all this stuff on my bed - I lived in a bedroom, and I had done it all on a sequencer with a couple midi-keyboards and a DX7 synthesizer. I guess I did a convincing enough job that it was legitimate, and they said, 'Work up the track, let us know when you're ready, and Paula will come out and do vocals.'"
Oliver did as instructed, and when Abdul flew to Minnesota to record her tracks, she had recorded just one song for the album: "Knocked Out," which was written and produced by the heavyweight team of LA Reid and Babyface.
Says Oliver: "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. I learned after the fact that one of the reasons Gemma held her hand and flew out with her to meet me before we recorded 'The Way That You Love Me,' was that this 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.
Gemma pulled me aside and explainined to me, 'She had a terrible experience, we need this to be a positive experience.' So 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.
In some cases it took multiple days of recording, comping, reducing that to one master comp, and then wiping all the tracks, doing it again, and seeing what we could do better. There were very limited tools at the time for pitch correction, the most advanced thing at the time was a Publison sampler, which was only advanced because of the amount of sample time it gave you. It was this French sampler, and if you had to change the pitch slower or faster, you had to do it with a pitch wheel on a midi controller. So you had to really finesse things, because if something was flat or sharp and you were using the Publison to correct it, you had to get it just right or else it was going to sound sped up or slowed down. God, when I think about what we had to do to make records back then."
Oliver was determined to succeed in the music industry outside the orbit of his famous father, Jerry Leiber. When is dad heard this song, however, he offered some connections that could have delivered this song to an established star instead of an unknown former-cheerleader.
In his Songfacts interview, Oliver said: "I had sent 'The Way That You Love Me' to my old man, because he was in the business. I hadn't seen him in years. I'd moved to Minnesota, I wanted to let him know that I was working and being productive, and that demo of 'The Way That You Love Me' was one of the first things I'd gotten together. So we had dinner one night with Russ Titelman, who has produced so many huge, huge, records. My dad played the demo for him, and Russ flipped out and called me and said he was cutting Chaka Khan, and he would love to cut the song on Chaka, and that Chaka loved it.
You have to understand that back in 1984 Chaka Khan had done 'I Feel For You,' which was Prince's song. It was huge, and he was working on the follow-up record. Russ wanted to use my master, and he said I would get a co-production credit, which I was incredibly excited about. Chaka Khan was one of my favorite singers, but I got a bit of great advice, and I'm glad I followed it. It was very counter-intuitive, but the advice was, if you have a hit with this unknown artist, people are going to be more apt to look and say, 'Who did this?' And plus, you'll be producing it. So I turned down Russ, and I ended up cutting on this unknown Laker Girl who clearly did not have the vocal ability of Chaka. But I thought, there's something about her. She's current. And I just had this sense that she was what was coming around the bend. And I made the right choice.
But it was a scary moment to turn down such a legendary singer, and someone who I admired so much and had grown up listening to those Rufus records. And you know, part of me for weeks thought, Oh God, I'm crazy, I can't believe I just did that."
That robotic vocal sound in the background is a vocoder, which can be used to create unusual sounds with the voice. Other songs to use the device include "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Eiffel 65 and "Believe" by Cher. Paul Peterson played it on this track and also contributed keyboards.
Leiber wrote two more songs for Paula: "Forever Your Girl" and "Opposites Attract." He went on to produce The Corrs, BBMak and Antigone Rising, and also toured as a guitarist in Rod Stewart's band. In 2009, Leiber wrote co-wrote songs for Kesha and Adam Lambert.
In November 1988, "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" was released as the second single (after "Knocked Out") from Forever Your Girl. It peaked at #88 in the US, but after Abdul's next three singles went to #1, this was re-released in September 1989, and it hit #3.