Columbia Records, Joel’s longtime label home, will release the song on Feb. 1 to all digital service providers and on limited edition 7” vinyl. It will be accompanied by a lyric video on Joel’s YouTube channel.
Joel, who has scored 33 Top 40 hits, hinted about the new song at his Dec. 19 show as part of his Madison Square Garden residency, telling the audience, “I have good news. I have bad news. 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’ve got a little something we’ve been working on you might hear sometime.”
The pop song — which Joel wrote with Freddy Wexler, Arthur Bacon and Wayne Hector and was produced by Wexler — includes the lyrics, “Did I wait too long … to turn the lights back on?” It’s Joel’s first song released with words since 2007’s “All My Life,” a lush, Sinatra-like ballad Joel wrote for his then wife, Katie Lee, that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Singles Sales chart.
No word on if “Turn the Lights Back On” is a one-off or a precursor to more material, but Joel has been open about his hesitation to return to his pop heyday, making the new song all the more welcome. “I’m not ruling out the possibility of writing songs again,” Joel told Billboard in 2007, a few months after “All My Life’s” release. “I suppose if I had the motivation to write a song, I’m not gonna stop myself from doing it. I just haven’t felt the compulsion to write songs in pop form. I guess these days I just think of myself as a composer.”
More recently, Joel told the New Yorker of his decision to stop recording, “Some people think it’s because I’m lazy or I’m just being contrary … But, no, I think it’s just — I’ve had my say … I’m not crazy about going into a recording studio and doing that kind of life again, or taking on another project where there’s other people involved, arrangers and orchestrators and conductors and producers. I don’t want to deal with it.”
The six-time Grammy winner’s last studio album was a collection of his classical anthems, Fantasies & Delusions, released on Sony Classical, in 2001.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee is on the tail end of his record-breaking 10-year residency at Madison Square Garden. Joel has played the historic New York City arena once a month since January 2014, and will wrap with his 150th show in July. He continues to tour outside of the residency, including a sold-out stadium show in Tokyo on Thursday (Jan. 25).