Commodores bass guitarist and trumpeter Ronald LaPread explained in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song, the sad and poignant tale that inspired this tune. His wife Cathy joined him on tour with the band but started having stomach pains. When they returned home to Alabama, she went to the hospital and learned she had cancer. She was given just two months to live. Ronald was devastated, but Cathy insisted he keep working with the band. After another set of shows, he returned home and started working on a song.
"I sat down at the piano and started fiddling around," he said. "Cathy got out of bed and came and sat down beside me. She told me that there were nice changes but the melody should go up at a certain place. We sat there for about an hour and worked out the music.
The Commodores had a listening session soon after and I played them another song I'd written, which they didn't like. I happened to have the tape for this song on me, although it didn't have any words yet. I played it and they asked what it was called. I said, 'It's like... Zoom' and the name stuck. I played it for our producer, James Carmichael, and he said it was nice but it needed a middle. He told me that (Lionel) Richie had a song with a middle and no beginning and he put us together to combine our songs.
The group went into the studio before the words were done and we cut the track. I took the cassette home to work on, but I couldn't get Cathy out of my mind. The first lines that came to me were:
I may be just a foolish dreamer
But I don't care
'Cause I know my happiness is waiting out there somewhere
Richie then added:
I'd like to fly far away from here
By then we were back in Los Angeles and Cathy was in the hospital there so I could go back and forth from the studio and spend time with her. She wasn't doing well. I told Richie that I couldn't focus on it so he finished the words and recorded the lead vocal. He captured everything I was feeling. It was very quiet in the studio when they played it for me. When the song finished, everyone was crying. They knew where it came from."
Ronald was on tour with the band in Glasgow when he got the call that Cathy was about to die. He took a Concorde and made it back to Alabama in time to say goodbye.