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“Turn the Lights Back On” happened because Billy Joel didn’t “have anything to prove,” says co-writer

Billy Joel and Freddy Wexler/Credit: Lester Cohen

Billy Joel‘s “Turn the Lights Back On” is his first hit in many years. While Billy co-wrote the song, he didn’t write the lyrics — they were written by one of his co-writers, Freddy Wexler, the same guy who co-produced the song and co-directed the video. But even though Billy has generally written all his songs himself, Wexler says he was fine with singing words he didn’t write.

“I think because Billy has had an astounding career, writing 100% of an entire catalog, he doesn’t have anything to prove,” Wexler tells ABC Audio. “He certainly was not out there looking for outside songs or outside ideas. But he also didn’t have the ego to block the opportunity from happening.”

Wexler initially wrote the words to the song after being inspired by a rough patch in his parents’ marriage, but he tried to write it in the way that Billy, his hero, would have written it, which is why, Wexler says, he was so comfortable singing it.

“What was interesting here is that on many records Billy plays a character. On this record, he plays the character who happens to be him,” Wexler explains. “So in the weirdest way, it’s one of the most natural vocals I’ve ever heard of him.”

“He said that to me himself,” Wexler adds. “He said, ‘On this record, I wasn’t trying to be Ray Charles or McCartney. I just sang naturally.’ And that was probably the greatest thing that could have ever happened, that he had that experience with it.”

Wexler hopes to work with Billy on more music in the future. In the meantime, Billy has added “Turn the Lights Back On” to his set list.

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