For the 1985 film White Nights, a ballet drama starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, director Taylor Hackford asked Richie to write a title theme. Unable to compose a song with "White Nights" in the title, Richie submitted a demo of the ballad "Say You, Say Me". Eventually, Hackford approved of the song and included the completed version in White Nights. Produced by Richie and James Anthony Carmichael, the song was primarily recorded in Richie's living room. In White Nights, "Say You, Say Me" was introduced over the closing credits.
A music video, also directed by Hackford, was made for the song. It featured inserted clips from White Nights.
In a 2007 retrospective of the January 11, 1986 Billboard Hot 100 chart, Whitney Pastorek of Entertainment Weekly graded "Say You, Say Me" with an A-minus, calling it "an enduring love song" and commenting "the cranked-up electric bridge alone should be enough to make it a classic."
In 2008, the song was ranked at number 74 of the top songs of all time on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, commemorating the first 50 years of the chart.
In the US, the "Say You, Say Me" single sold a million copies and was no. 1 on for two weeks the Billboard R&B chart and for four weeks on the Hot 100.
The single was hugely successful in South Africa, attaining the No. 1 spot on the weekly charts and remaining thereon for a total of 30 weeks. It eventually became the No. 1 single of 1986 on that country's year-end Springbok charts.
In 2012, Lionel Richie re-recorded the song with Danish pop singer-songwriter Rasmus Seebach. The duet is featured on Richie's album Tuskegee, for which Richie has picked a host of best-selling singers from around the world in collaborations. The album version features American country singer Jason Aldean.