Billy Joel’s AI State of Mind

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A friend who reviews music and interviews top performers for a newspaper in New England, was up early Feb. 1 to sample the release from pop legend Billy Joel — his first new song in 17 years, “Turn the Lights Back On.”

The music and accompanying video link he sent me evoked memories of Mr. Joel’s “New York State of Mind” (1976), with a hint of “Piano Man” (1973):

“Drivin’ down 7th Avenue/ So many things have changed/ The places, the faces, the traces/ Of the days are falling out of range.

“While I’m parking my car/ I see a familiar bar/ The neon beer sign has seen better times/ And this joint can’t keep up with the fines/ So raise a glass, make a toast/ Honor all forgotten ghosts/ Turn the lights back on my friend/ Turn the lights back on.”

It was vintage Billy Joel, or so it seemed to us. But later in the day when I eagerly searched for the track to play it for my wife, Mr. Joel had changed his tune:

“Please open the door/ Nothing is different, we’ve been here before/ Pacing these halls/ Trying to talk over the silence.”

“I’m late, but I’m here right now/ Though I used to be romantic/ I forgot somehow/ Time can make you blind/ But I see you now/ As we’re laying in the darkness/ Did I wait too long/ To turn the lights back on?”

Seems the version my friend and I were enamored of was written by Tom Scharpling on his podcast “The Best Show,” with collaborator Brian Heveron-Smith, They had only the title to work with after Mr. Joel announced the new project in an Instagram post Jan. 22.

More intriguing than the musical fake are the comments on YouTube. “I wasn’t a Billy Joel fan until I heard this song,” writes @MichaelList. “He finally got me!” To which @Jack5505 replies, “This is not his new release. This is a fake.” And Michael posts, “Really?! I still love it!”

The music industry has been challenged by AI vocals that mimic a sound by processing dozens of prior works by an artist. Many have appeared on TikTok, with some already prompting legal action by record companies.

Meanwhile, Billy Joel, who turns 75 in May, still sounds great. And apparently, he’ll continue that way long after the lights go out.

Copyright 2024 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Peter Funt’s latest book is “Playing POTUS: The Power of America’s Acting Presidents,” about comedians who impersonated presidents.