Billy Joel will emerge from a 17-year recording hiatus February 1 with the release of “Turn The Lights Back On.” According to a press release, the song is a “classic Billy Joel-style tune, embodying the hallmarks of his signature sound and ushering in the next chapter of his story. In the lyrics, he asks, ‘Did I wait too long… to turn the lights back on?’”
“Turn The Lights Back” was produced by Freddy Wexler, who has worked with everyone from Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber to Kanye West, Blackpink, P!nk, Lil Wayne, Selena Gomez, and Celine Dion. It was written by Wexler, Arthur Bacon, Wayne Hector, and Joel.
Joel first hinted that new material might be coming late last year during a show at Madison Square Garden. “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “I’ll give you the bad news first. We don’t have anything new to play for you. The good news is you don’t have to sit through something you have no idea what it is. Although, we got a little something we’re working on you might hear sometime.” (A clip of this moment became the first post on Joel’s official TikTok account.)
There hasn’t been a Billy Joel album of any sort since 2001’s classical piano release Fantasies & Delusions where British-Korean pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo performed instrumental works written by Joel. His last pop record was 1993’s River of Dreams. He’s toured heavily since then, but his only new singles were the twin 2007 releases “All My Life” and “Christmas in Fallujah.” The former song was a love ballad to then-wife Katie Lee, while the latter was a rock song featuring Cass Dillon on lead vocals. A live version with Joel on vocals was released in 2008.
In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone, Joel talked about his decision to stop releasing new songs. “I still write music,” he said. “I just don’t record it, and they’re not in song form. It’s another kind of music altogether. It’s purely for my own edification. I don’t feel compelled to record it. I don’t feel compelled to make myself be relevant. Like I said, I lived the rock & roll life, and I’m not writing that anymore.”
He continued: “I have a lot of music that no one’s ever heard and no one may ever hear if I don’t decide to do something with it. It’s really about the creative process that’s important to me, not about having records on the charts or selling a lot of recordings. I’m learning all the time, and you never stop learning. That’s what’s good about the writing process. You always learn something new whenever you create.”
Joel’s next show is a headlining gig January 24 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. He’s playing a series of One Night Only shows with Sting at U.S. stadiums throughout the year. And on July 25, he’ll wrap up his monthly Madison Square Garden residency after a decade-long run.