Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

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"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is a 1953 swing-style song, with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon. The lyrics comically refer to the official 1930 renaming of the city of Constantinople to Istanbul. It also references other renamed cities, specifically the renaming of New York City from New Amsterdam.

Musical Influences[edit]

It is said to be a response to "C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E" recorded in 1928 by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.[1]

Political Influences[edit]

Turkey’s announcement that Constantinople would henceforth only be known by the name Istanbul created a stir. This swing song written in Turkey’s defense took the edge off Western pique and served to soften Western indignation over the Muslimization of the city's name.[2]

The Four Lads original version[edit]

"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was originally recorded by the Canadian group The Four Lads on August 12, 1953. This recording was released by Columbia Records as catalog number 40082. It first reached the Billboard magazine charts on October 24, 1953, and it peaked at #10. It was the group's first gold record.[3][4]

Cover versions[edit]

Live performance cover versions[edit]

The Duke's Men of Yale, an all-male a cappella group at Yale University, perform the song at the end of most of their concerts. The song has been in the repertoire of the Duke's Men since 1953.[citation needed]

During the 2000s, the song was performed live by Australian Klezmer/Gypsy Jazz band Monsieur Camembert.[citation needed]

Recorded cover versions[edit]

Recording artists and groups known to have covered this song include:

They Might Be Giants cover[edit]

"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
Single by They Might Be Giants
from the album Flood
B-side "James K. Polk"
Released May 14, 1990
Format CD single, 7", 12"
Genre Alternative rock
Length 2:34
Label Elektra (US)
Elektra / WEA (EU)
Producer(s) Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley
They Might Be Giants singles chronology
"Birdhouse in Your Soul"
"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

One of the better-known versions of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is the cover by the alternative rock band They Might Be Giants (TMBG), who released it on their album Flood in 1990. It was released as the second single from that album in the same year. TMBG's version is at a faster tempo than the original.

Track listing[edit]

American release
  1. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" – 2:34
  2. "James K. Polk" – 3:16
  3. "Stormy Pinkness" – 1:08
  4. "Ant" – 1:53
  5. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (Brownsville mix) – 5:13
European single
  1. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" – 2:34
  2. "James K. Polk" – 3:16
  3. "Stormy Pinkness" – 1:08
  4. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (Brownsville Mix)" – 5:13
European 7" release
  1. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" – 2:34
  2. "James K. Polk" – 3:16

Sales chart history[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
UK Singles Chart 61

Popular culture references[edit]

  • The lyrics were used in the March 21, 1954 episode of The Jack Benny Program during a sketch about a man trying to buy a train ticket to Constantinople. Jack Benny and Frank Nelson proceed to use the lyrics to dispute where the man can go.
  • A few lines of the song are sung by some Muppet rats at the beginning of the second season episode of Muppets Tonight guest-starring Pierce Brosnan. When host Clifford tells the audience that the show can be seen everywhere from Istanbul to Constantinople, Rizzo the rat corrects him that Istanbul is Constantinople.
  • On NBC's America's Got Talent on August 16, 2011, the act Those Funny Little People performed a routine to the They Might Be Giants version of this song.[7]
  • On CBS's Cold Case, the 2008 episode "Pin Up Girl" features a scene, that takes place in 1953, where the victim entertains her companions by singing and dancing to the Four Lads version of the song. The song ends up being part of a clue that helps move the case forward.
  • During the TV series Get Smart (season 3) episode "Die Spy", several lines of the song are spoken as interplay between Don Adams and Stu Gilliam.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring The Castle of Fu Manchu, Tom Servo recites a few lines after Joel says "Oh, sure just barge into Istanbul... hey, at least it's not Constantinople."
  • In Gilmore Girls, when Lorelai is being quizzed about her history knowledge, she responds "I don't know that one. I do know Istanbul is Constantinople, so if you've got a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul" (Season 3, episode 3).
  • In the TV series Bunheads, Sasha leads a fantasy contemporary ballet dance number set to the song in her class, in the form of a Pas de trois.
  • In week 10 of series 12 of Strictly Come Dancing, Caroline Flack performed a Charleston with professional partner Pasha Kovalev to this song performed live on the night by the Dave Arch band. Her dance achieved the highest score of the series so far, earning herself 39 points from the judges. She also performed the dance to the song in the final, earning a perfect score of 40 points.


External links[edit]