In 1980, Kenny Rogers was the biggest draw in country music. To capitalize on his status – and a year which had already seen three top five hits on the country charts – his record label wanted a Greatest Hits package to ring in the Christmas season. Rogers had just ended his five-year relationship with producer Larry Butler and was seeking new blood to spark his creativity.
He turned to Lionel Richie, who wasn’t yet the solo superstar he was to become within a few years. At the time, he still fronted the Motown group The Commodores. Like Rogers, Richie had experienced major crossover success. The 1978 hit “Three Times a Lady” had topped the pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and UK charts. The country-tinged “Easy” (1977) was a hit on all four formats as well.
The pair of songs caught Rogers’ attention. Rogers contacted Motown founder Berry Gordy about working with the Commodores. Because of a motorcycle accident to drummer Walter Orange, the group had delayed a concert tour and Richie and Co. had time on their hands. Lionel flew to Las Vegas to meet with Rogers. Richie played demos of “Lady” and “Goin’ Back to Alabama”, songs he’d written two years earlier. BR1 Rogers cut both in an 8 ˝ hour session; the former included some lyrical tweaking to reference Rogers’ relationship with his wife. TR As Rogers said, “The idea was that Lionel would come from R&B and I’d come from country, and we’d meet somewhere in the middle.” BR1
The song became Rogers’ fourth million-selling single and his first #1 on the pop charts. BB100 It was also the biggest pop song of 1980 WHC and the first song of the decade to hit all four of the major Billboard charts (pop, R&B, country, adult contemporary). BR1