Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
"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.
The tune is reminiscent of "Puttin' on the Ritz," written by Irving Berlin in 1929, but the song 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.
The Four Lads original version
"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.
Live performance cover versions
During the 2000s (decade), the song was performed live by Australian Klezmer/Gypsy Jazz band Monsieur Camembert.
Recorded cover versions
Recording artists and groups known to have covered this song include:
- Edmundo Ros (1953)
- Bing Crosby with Ella Fitzgerald (1953)
- Frankie Vaughan (1954)
- Caterina Valente (1954)
- Renato Carosone
- Darío Moreno (1954, in French)
- Jacques Hélian et son Orchestre (1950s, in French as "Istamboul")
- Lou Busch (as "Joe Fingers Carr & his Ragtime Band")
- Ota Čermák (1959)
- Santo & Johnny (1962)
- Bruno & the Gladiators, instrumental surf rock band, though titled "Istanbul" (1963)
- Leo Addeo, (1965)
- Bette Midler for the live album "Live At Last" (1977)
- Harvard Din & Tonics have sung this song since the group's inception in 1979.
- Lee Press-on and the Nails (1998).
- Belmont Playboys, Instrumental titled "Istanbul" (1999)
- Ac Rock, a cappella version "Istanbul" (1999)
- Oscar Aleman Instrumental version titled "Estambul" (2005)
- Ska Cubano (2006)
- Ayhan Sicimoglu made a French/Latin version named "Istanbul Pas Constantinople" on "Friends and Family" (2006)
- Top Shelf Jazz recorded this on their debut album "Fast and Louche" (2009)
- Terrance Zdunich sings this song as Count Tarakan, the Badass Russian (2011)
- Frau Kraushaar interpreted the song as "Istanbul Konstantinople" on "The Power of Appropriation" (2012).
- DJs Chris Milan and Jay Phoenix (as "Milan & Phoenix") sampled the original recording by The Four Lads in their EDM mix of the same name.
- The Loveboat Big Band on their debut album "Songs In the Sea of Life" (2012)
They Might Be Giants cover
|"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"|
Elektra / WEA (EU)
|Producer||Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley|
|They Might Be Giants singles chronology|
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 and contains a distinct klezmer influence, including a violin introduction and some accordion and electric guitar parts not present in the original version.
Popular culture references
- 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.
- Early 1967 UK's psychedelic one-hit wonder Great Uncle Fred re-used three accords in his song "I'm In Love With An Ex-beauty Queen".
- The They Might Be Giants version is used in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Tiny Toons Music Television" and The Simpsons episode "Mobile Homer".
- A few lines of the song were sung in the film Mona Lisa Smile.
- A few lines of the song were 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.
- 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).
- On the June 3, 2009, episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Ferguson and many dancers dressed up in "Turkish" garb performed a comedic cover of the They Might Be Giants version.
- In the TV series Bunheads, Sasha leads a fantasy contemporary ballet dance number set to the song in her class. It's a sort of pas de trois.
- In Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced, there is a level named 'Now it's Istanbul'.
- Chapter 2 of Jacques Steinberg's bestselling book The Gatekeepers is titled "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
- Songs Incorrectly Attributed To TMBG - TMBW: The They Might Be Giants Knowledge Base
- Judy Harris, 'Roll Your Own' Radio Show
- "Gold & Platinum certification of albums at RIAA". www.riaa.com.[dead link] Retrieved November 26, 2006.
- Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940–1955. Record Research.
- Lost Legends of Surf Guitar, Vol. 3 at AllMusic
- Oldies, Goodies and Woodies. Vault Album Discography.
- "Craig Ferguson - Istanbul". Retrieved November 5, 2011.