20 Years Ago: David Bowie Releases ‘Telling Lies,’ First Downloadable Single in Music History
The late, great David Bowie has often been called a music pioneer, but he also was on the forefront of technology. On Sept. 11, 1996, years before anyone was talking about Napster, mp3s or iPods, Bowie released "Telling Lies," the first downloadable single by a major musician.
Bowie had experimenting with incorporating drum ’n’ bass and jungle into his music. As the first song he wrote for what would become 1997’s Earthling, “Telling Lies” was a gateway drug for what was to come: skittering beats, squealing noise and heavily processed vocals. After recording the track, he farmed it out to DJs and producers, who created their own mixes.
On that day, Bowie delivered the “Paradox Mix” of "Telling Lies" by A Guy Called Gerald. He also participated in an online press conference with two people pretending to be him. All three “Bowies” took questions; the real Bowie remained honest while the other two were, true to the song's title, telling lies. Users voted on whom they thought was the real thing at the end of the event. Bowie came in third.
After Bowie revealed himself, he talked about the decision to release music through the internet. “I often plunge myself into the deep end of a situation just to see what happens,” he told the audience.
Two additional downloads of “Telling Lies” – the “Feelgood Jungle Mix” by Mark Plati and the “Adam F” mix – were unveiled on Sept. 18 and 25, respectively. A press release claimed thousands of downloads and a daily average of 300,000 hits per day on Bowie’s official site. It also confirmed that the tracks would eventually be available on boring old CDs in November.
This wouldn’t be the only time that Bowie was ahead of the curve, in terms of the web. In 1998, the artist launched a full-fledged internet service provider to compete with the likes of AOL. Unlike most musicians who were skittish of the internet, Bowie chatted with fans and released exclusive content through the service, which also gave users an @DavidBowie.com e-mail address. With the rise of high-speed providers, BowieNet ended in 2006.
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