Since 1978, Lionel Richie was the writer or performer of five No. 1 singles - but it was his sixth, 1983's "All Night Long (All Night)," which reached the top of the charts on Nov. 12, 1983 - that sent his already-amazing career into overdrive.
Richie, a member of Motown hitmakers the Commodores since the late '60s, had struck out on his own in the '80s with his bestselling self-titled solo debut, the chart-topping movie theme "Endless Love" with Diana Ross, and even country singer Kenny Rogers' smash "Lady." It was sophomore album Can't Slow Down where everything came together, spinning off five Top 10 singles through 1984.
That impressive chart run began with "All Night Long," an upbeat, calypso-flavored tune with a singable melody and a catchy (if nonsensical) pseudo-African chant. Richie later told GQ everything except the chorus came quickly. "It took me probably another month of...trying to figure out: what is the hook to 'Come On and Sing Along'?" he said. "I've gotta give you the sing-along!"
Eventually, inspiration struck after meeting a Jamaican doctor friend for dinner. "I'm leaving his house about 2:00 in the morning," he recalled, "and as I'm leaving his house I'm saying to him [in a Jamaican accent] 'Hey man, I got to go back and work all night long.'"
A similar unexpected inspiration came for the chant in the song's bridge. Lionel told the New York Post in 2013 he initially wanted to use real phrases, not realizing how many African dialects existed; pressed for time, he decided to make one up. "Somewhere in that made-up language, I am actually saying something, because even to this day, we’ll play India, and someone will tell me, ‘Yes, you’ve touched on certain words in [our language],’" he said. "As long as I am not cursing you out, I am going in the right direction.”
Indeed, the song's right direction was straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, staying there for four weeks. It started the chain reaction that helped Can't Slow Down sell more than 20 million copies worldwide and pick up a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Decades later, it remains one of Richie's most popular songs, sampled in Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull's "I Like It" (an international Top 5 in 2011) as well as Camilla Cabello's 2019 single "Liar."