Billy Joel Turns the Lights Back On

The Piano Man is back with a new song.

Above is the official video for “Turn the Lights Back On,” Billy Joel’s first new pop song since.

WaPo (“Billy Joel releases his first new song in 17 years“):

Billy Joel released his first song in nearly two decades Thursday morning, resuming a highly successful songwriting career that many considered to be all but over.

The new song, “Turn the Lights Back On,” is a classic Joel pop ballad about returning to an old love, while also winking to fans who have waited for the Grammy-winning artist to release new music.


Joel announced the new single on Jan. 22, with a short Instagram video. He previously teased new music in December during an onstage performance, telling the crowd, “We’ve got a little something we’ve been working on you might hear sometime.” Speculation grew when his official Facebook page changed its cover photo to an image with the phrase, “Did I wait too long ….” (It has since changed to a promotion photo for the new single.)

This is Joel’s first single since 2007, when he released “All My Life” (which was reportedly a Valentine’s Day gift for his then-wife, Katie Lee) and “Christmas in Fallujah,” a holiday tune he wrote about soldiers in Iraq that was performed by Cass Dillon. In 2001, he composed a classical music album, “Fantasies & Delusions.”

Joel has won five Grammy Awards during his much-celebrated career. His first came in 1978 when he won record and song of the year for “Just the Way You Are.”

That songwriting career came to an apparent halt in 1993 after Joel released his album “River of Dreams.” He suggested an end to his musical journey on the album’s final song, “Famous Last Words,” when he sang: “And these are the last words I have to say/ It’s always hard to say goodbye/ But now it’s time to put this book away/ Ain’t that the story of my life.”

In 2018, Joel told Vulture that he had stopped writing music in part for his mental health. “I would drink to try and ease the pain of not being as good as I wanted to be,” he said. “It was a vicious cycle, so I stopped.”

But he never completely closed the door on a return. “I’m never going to say never,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “I may come up with an idea that could become a song. I may write a movie soundtrack. I may write a symphony. I don’t know. Anything’s possible.

That Joel is still touring and again putting out new music at 74 (he turns 75 in May) would be more remarkable if he weren’t considerably younger than the sitting President and his likely challenger. Or the Rolling Stones.

Still, it’s very obviously a Joel song from the first moments and, on one listen, pretty good.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    His songwriting chops are as good as they ever were, which I would expect. His voice sounds really good, too, which is more questionable given aging.

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    I think it was Les Nessman who called Christie Brinkley’s one time husband Billy Jo-el as if he were a Superman character.
    The only President USA that is younger than me is President Obama. He was born in August of 1961. I was born in January 1948.
    As for the Stones…maybe I can get them to play at my funeral.

  3. dazedandconfused says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    It sounds like the ones he used to make. Perhaps that was the problem. He reached his maximum. Happens to a lot of good artists. They become aware they are not a Beethoven and are smart enough to know it. All their songs begin to sound alike to them and they decline to keep cranking out a 1000 songs that all sound alike. Production is hard, touring is hard. Without the fire of creation it ceases when the bank account is full.

    He came to terms with his limitations. He did not try to create a new “sound”. Good. His sound is fine and there’s a lot of people for whom his sound will be new.

  4. DrDaveT says:

    I always liked Billy Joel, but listening to a thousand YouTube reactors has reminded me what a consummate genius he really was. And as good as his studio work was, some of his live concerts are on a whole different level. If you’ve never seen the Old Grey Whistle Test performance of “New York State of Mind”, do yourself a favor and look it up.

    There just aren’t that many songwriters who can excel across such a wide range of styles. It’s hard to believe that the same mind created “Piano Man”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, “Vienna”, “Angry Young Man”, “Uptown Girl”, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, “Rosalinda’s Eyes”, “New York State of Mind”, and “Just the Way You Are”. Paul Simon is the only other songwriter I can think of with that level of eclectic virtuosity.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: My first conscious recollection of Joel was with the release of “Glass Houses” in 1980, although I’d probably heard some of his songs previously. I bought that and all of his other albums, mostly on cassette tape, over the years.

    Slate‘s Chris Molanphy did a great treatment of Joel’s work on his podcast a couple years back, echoing the lead-off hit off that album: “It’s Still Billy Joel to Me.” The synopsis:

    So, sure—Billy Joel’s first Top 40 hit, way back in 1974, was “Piano Man,” and the nickname stuck. But for a guy who became famous sitting behind 88 keys, few of his biggest hits are really piano songs. In fact, on all three of his No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, keyboards are not the primary instrument.

    The truth is, Joel isn’t the Piano Man, he’s the pastiche man. He has openly admitted to borrowing genre tropes, vocal styles, and even specific song hooks from his Baby Boom-era heroes, from Ray Charles to the Beatles to the Supremes. He’s been a jazzy crooner, a saloon balladeer, an anthem rocker, even a pseudo-punk. And on his most hit-packed album, he literally tried on a different song mode on every single—and was rewarded for it. This month, Hit Parade breaks down the uncanny success of pop magpie Billy Joel, the guy who would try anything for a hit: the next phase, new wave, dance craze, any ways.

    It’s worth a listen.

  6. Franklin says:

    @DrDaveT: And you didn’t even mention my fave which is “My Life”. The guy’s a good songwriter, but I’d have a hard time putting him quite at the same level as Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Prince, and maybe a few others ahead. But it’s subjective, I know, and this is really covering not much more than general pop of the past 50+ years.

  7. dazedandconfused says:

    FWIW, he doesn’t consider himself as being in the same class with those guys. Caught an interview with him a few years back. He holds himself to be a competent tune-smith and lyricist, which give him an advantage over most of the industry, but not great at either.

    He also successfully busted up a trumpeter trying to lay down a track by eating a lemon in front of him in that vid. Can’t help but like the guy.