Song 336: Lionel Richie, “All Night Long (All Night)” (1983)

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We have some friends whose toddler regularly, and randomly, starts singing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).” Since he’s two-and-a-half, the delivery is a little stilted—All! Night long!—but it’s unmistakably the Lionel Richie hit, with enthusiasm to match.

I think that’s the great charm of the song: we all know how that chorus goes, and that those three words are followed by two more; and we all know the iconic video, in which Lionel Richie leads a pastel-shaded parade like some kind of Easter-themed zombie rebellion. It’s a democratic song, an inclusive jam for everybody: “Come join our party, see how we play!” Richie sing-yells at one point. Yes, please.

Why else is “All Night Long (All Night)” such a great song? I think it’s because, like other great “let’s party!” songs, it takes its sweet time. It doesn’t need to rush its joy; this is confident, content party music. The combination of R&B with Caribbean influences was also a stroke of genius. Three years before Graceland, Richie is using another culture’s music to connote… what, exactly? In Richie’s case—as opposed to Paul Simon’s studied tour guide approach—I think this sound was intended to make us think of vacations. You could argue cultural assimilation, and I wouldn’t disagree with you, but I think that would make you the video’s surly cop, all frown and night stick. Join the fiesta, cop!

See what this song has done to me? Now excuse me while I go put on some pink leg warmers.

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