The performance — the first time Joel has played at the Grammys in 30 years — was preceded by a video package explaining the new song’s origin story, with co-writer Freddy Wexler saying his dream of meeting Joel was fulfilled when his wife introduced him “to a doctor who knew another doctor who once knew Billy Joel.”
This loose association led to a long lunch meeting between Wexler and the icon who, Wexler says, became “unlikely friends” and ultimately wrote the song together.
“It took him awhile to talk me into it,” says Joel, who says he did a recording and “didn’t hate my voice, and I usually do.”
Joel, who has scored 33 top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, ended up co-writing “Turn the Lights Back On” with Wexler, Arthur Bacon and Wayne Hector. Wexler also produced it. It’s Joel’s first song released with words since 2007’s “All My Life.”
“The whole point of doing what I do is because it was so much fun to do when I first started. I kind of lost that after awhile. Freddy got me to find the joy in it again,” Joel said.
The performance featured Joel at the piano singing the ballad, his voice sounding lower than it did in his heyday but still rich and true, with the camera occasionally cutting to Wexler singing along. Joel’s accompanists included Icelandic-Chinese singer Laufey, who won the Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album earlier in the evening.
Joel later closed the 2024 Grammys with a rousing rendition of his 1980 classic “You May Be Right.”
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