Lionel Richie, set for Jones Beach, goes from pop to country

Lionel Richie performs during the 2014 Bonnaroo Music Lionel Richie performs during the 2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 14, 2014 in Manchester, Tenn. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jason Merritt

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Few pop-star comebacks have been as graceful as Lionel Richie's over the past few years. The delightfully mustachioed singer -- who plays Wednesday at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater -- was responsible for '80s smashes such as "Lady," "All Night Long" and "Dancing on the Ceiling." He redefined himself as a country singer in 2012, reinterpreting his hits with guests such as Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton, Shania Twain and his old friend Kenny Rogers. And in interviews, the former Commodore happily deflates his own pop-cultural image, poking fun at his own iconic hits. "If you go back and look at all of my songs, I don't like long titles. 'Still.' 'Hello.' 'Easy,'" Richie, 54, told Entertainment Weekly. "'You Are' was too long. It was going to be just 'You.'"

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, Richie met his fellow Commodores on the campus of Tuskegee Institute; the band scored an opening slot for the superhot Jackson 5 on a 1971 tour. After that, the Commodores signed with Michael Jackson's record label, Motown, and began spewing out hits such as "Easy" and the enduring bar-band anthem "Brick House." Richie split for a solo career in the early '80s, racking up No. 1 singles for nine years in a row, but he essentially shut off the hit faucet in the '90s and '00s -- until making his country album, "Tuskegee." Here are 10 songs that have defined his career:

Little Green Apples (early 1970s). Perhaps hinting at his future as an easy-listening balladeer, Richie sang this much-covered hit (made famous by Patti Page) at the Commodores' audition for the Jackson 5 tour. They passed. Later, at Motown, Richie would tell Vanity Fair, "What I learned most was whatever you do, if you sing, dance, juggle, whatever it is, you do it in the first song. Because they may not stick around for the second one."

Machine Gun (1974). Motown introduced the Commodores not with Richie's voice but this instrumental, which added spacey synths to funk fixtures such as Sly and the Family Stone-style guitars. "If you think 'Machine Gun' is something," the record label's ads promised, "wait 'til you hear the Commodores vocalize."

Slippery When Wet (1975). Speaking of Sly Stone, the Commodores borrowed heavily from the earlier funk-and-soul band's distinctive style, adding one crucial weapon -- Richie's super-smooth voice, which made even a warning against infidelity seem sexy.

Easy (1977). Richie had written a few cuts on every Commodores album, but suddenly he was coming up with almost impossibly universal choruses. "You've got to relate to people, tell them something that will teach them," he later told Jet. "Easy like Sunday morning is going to be like Sunday morning every time there is a Sunday morning."

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Three Times A Lady (1978). After the Commodores released dance-floor staple "Brick House," Richie began to fire cornball ballads, such as "Sail On" and "Still," onto the radio with incredible quantity and speed. "My confidence was building," he told Billboard.

Lady (1980). Richie wrote this schmaltzy smash for Kenny Rogers, hastening his Commodores departure. "They didn't say, 'Go solo.' They said, 'Do a solo album,'" he told Billboard. "The only problem with that was, try to explain that to the Commodores."

All Night Long (1983). "Truly" was Richie's first No. 1 solo hit, but "All Night Long (All Night)" has become a more iconic representative of his ridiculous '80s winning streak: That curly hair! That vaguely reggae voice! Those tight black leather pants! With the bright-orange open-neck shirt tucked in so perfectly! And, above all, that mustache!

We Are the World (1984). Richie's career intersected again with Michael Jackson when they collaborated to write this ubiquitous charity ballad. They managed it despite the conflicting hours of two of the world's biggest pop stars. "The idea of me and you even being in the same city at the same time is pretty ridiculous," Richie told Jackson.

Dancing On the Ceiling (1986). A U.S. military commander recently told Richie that troops in Iraq blasted this '80s smash from the tops of Humvees so civilians knew the soldiers were friendly. Or so Richie recalled, to Entertainment Weekly. He did not reveal that Blender magazine once named "Dancing" the 20th-worst song of all time, "sounding suspiciously as if it was written in order to fit a video treatment rather than the other way around."

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Stuck On You (2012). Richie took most of the '90s off, then spent 15 years attempting comeback albums. It wasn't until he smartly reinvented himself as a country singer, collaborating with established stars on his own hits, that one truly stuck. To revisit this 1983 ballad, he enlisted fellow country convert Darius Rucker, whose Hootie and the Blowfish probably wouldn't have existed without Richie's easy-listening trailblazing.

 

CeeLo Green shares the bill

Millions of people first noticed singer CeeLo Green -- who's sharing the Jones Beach bill with Lionel Richie -- when he showed up in one of those rotating red chairs on NBC's "The Voice" in 2012. But as he told interviewers, he was fully formed as a singer and performer by that point.

"Anybody who's noticing me at the moment cannot help but trace that tree down into the roots," he said. "You know where I've come from and what I've been about -- I'm disciplined and very, very passionate."

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The Atlanta-born Green and his supernaturally high-pitched soul-man voice first broke out when he was part of Goodie Mob's hip-hop crew in the mid-'90s. He went solo with 2002's trippy, all-over-the-place "CeeLo Green and His Perfect Imperfections," but he didn't congeal into a full-fledged pop star until he joined producer Danger Mouse four years later in Gnarls Barkley.

The duo's hit "Crazy" opened all kinds of doors for Green, from his later solo smash "Forget You" (which spawned a zillion covers and parodies, including his own performance of "Fox News" on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report") to "The Voice." He quit that show earlier this year, telling Ellen DeGeneres he didn't want to "wear out my welcome."

His TBS reality show, "The Good Life" -- which reunites Green with Goodie Mob as they record an album together -- premieres Monday 10:30 p.m.

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