With his steadfast touring schedule, Billy Joel has remained omnipresent on the concert stage ever since he kicked off his solo career in the early 1970s, but as for the last time he actually released a new song... Well, until a few days ago, it had been a very, very long while, but on Feb. 1, Joel released “Turn the Lights Back On,” his first new single in the better part of a few decades.
Indeed, it was an occasion deemed so momentous, musically speaking, that Joel scored a spot on tonight’s Grammy Awards to perform the song.
The studio version of “Turn the Lights Back On” was produced by Freddy Wexler (Demi Lovato, P!nk), and it was written by Wexler, Arthur Bacon, Wayne Hector, and Joel. A video introduction to the live performance bounced back and forth between pre-taped interviews with Joel and Wexler in comedic fashion, indicating just how disinterested Joel appeared to be in meeting with Wexler and how Wexler’s enthusiasm for trying to get Joel to write a new song never flagged an iota.
At the conclusion of the video, the spotlight shone on Joel, sitting at the piano, and he was off and running, delivering a performance which served to underline that, as a singer and pianist, he hasn't lost a step in the intervening years since his last pop release. When host Trevor Noah said at the conclusion of the epic performance, “That was worth the wait,” he undoubtedly spoke for the major of the viewership.
But that wasn't all of the Billy Joel that the audience got to enjoy: he returned to close out the ceremony with a rollicking performance of "You May Be Right," the opening track from his 1980 album Glass Houses.
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Joel has a long history with the Grammys. He was nominated for his first – and second – Grammy Award in 1979 for his single “Just the Way You Are,” which won both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. He returned the following year to win two additional Grammys for his album 52nd Street (Album of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance) and was nominated for a third – Song of the Year – for his single “Honesty.” And, hey, why not keep the winning streak going? He also took home the 1981 Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for his album Glass Houses, which was also nominated for – but did not win – Album of the Year.
Since then, Joel has been nominated 16 additional times, including Album of the Year nods for his albums The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man, and River of Dreams, and in 1991 he won the Grammy Legend Award. His most recent nomination was for a re-recording of “New York State of Mind” with Tony Bennett, which was nominated for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2002.