“He thought he was meeting a ‘kid’ and signing an autograph”: Songwriter and producer Freddy Wexler on his potentially awkward first encounter with Billy Joel and how he ended up working with him on new single Turn The Lights Back On

Billy Joel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of all the musical comebacks we’ve seen and heard over the past few years, Billy Joel’s has got to be one of the more unlikely. Sure, he was still touring, but it had long been assumed that he’d holstered his songwriting pen for good.

Not so, it transpires: with Turn The Lights Back On, the star has his first Billboard Hot 100 hit in more than 25 years, and now Freddy Wexler, one of the song’s co-writers and co-producers, has been telling Billboard the unlikely story of how his collaboration with Joel came about.

It turns out that Wexler, who’s previously worked with the likes of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Pink and Lil Wayne, is a long-term fan of Joel; so much so that, for his 35th birthday, his wife Olivia pledged to get him a meeting.

After hitting various dead-ends, Olivia finally made it happen, but when Wexler got his chance to meet Joel, it turns out that the Piano Man didn’t really know who he was.

“He thought he was meeting a ‘kid’ and signing an autograph,” Wexler recalls. “He knew nothing about me, and it was clear he wasn’t really looking to ‘dine’ when he ordered his BLT to go!”

(Billy Joel actually told Howard Stern recently that the meeting came about slightly differently: “His doctor knew my doctor … I thought I’d do something for the doctor,” is his recollection.)

Undeterred, Wexler seized his chance to make an impression. What could have been a brief conversation ended up lasting a couple of hours, as the two men realised that they shared a common approach to songwriting.

Billy Joel

Billy Joel and Freddy Wexler at the 2024 Grammy Awards. (Image credit: Getty Images)

With the relationship formed, Wexler confirmed to Billboard that he would go on to present Joel with a melody that he’d written with him in mind.

“I’m constantly thinking ‘What would Billy do here?’ when I’m writing - but in this case, I actively channelled him,” he says. “I wanted to basically write a Billy Joel song.”

Wexler actually started working on Turn The Lights Back On with Arthur Bacon and Wayne Hector some time before his meeting with Joel, and it was only later that the man who would ultimately come to sing the song got involved.

“We became close friends,” Wexler says of his blossoming relationship with Joel, “and we started quietly working on his unfinished material from over the years. This period was about a year and a half during which Billy, unbeknownst to nearly anyone, started to dip his toe into writing again. I travelled with him to many of his shows and, eventually, I showed him Turn the Lights Back On. He helped me finish it at a studio and, as I suspect he does with anything, he made it much better.”

Wexler admits that it was “a little intimidating” to end up being in a room writing with Joel, comparing the experience to being “like a high school tennis player hitting with Federer”. The two clearly hit it off, though, and there could be more material on the way.

“There are a handful of ideas we’ve worked on, and as long as he’s having fun, I think we’ll keep writing more,” Wexler confirms. “But for now, we’re both sort of taking in this moment.”  

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.