Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

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"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is a 1953 novelty song, with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon. Written on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, the lyrics humorously refer to the official 1930 renaming of the city of Constantinople to Istanbul. The song's original release, performed by The Four Lads, was certified as a gold record. A rock cover of it was released in 1990 by They Might Be Giants.

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]

The Four Lads original version[edit]

"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was originally recorded by the Canadian vocal quartet 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.[2][3]

Cover versions[edit]

They Might Be Giants[edit]

"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
They Might Be Giants - Istanbul (Not Constantinople).jpg
Single by They Might Be Giants
from the album Flood
B-side"James K. Polk"
ReleasedMay 14, 1990
FormatCD single, 7", 12"
GenreAlternative rock, Klezmer
LabelElektra (US)
Elektra / WEA (EU)
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Kennedy (lyrics), Nat Simon (music)
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. The music video was featured in the first season of Liquid Television.

Sales chart history[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
UK Singles Chart 61

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, appearing on the album Live on Stage.[4]

In popular culture[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.
  • The They Might Be Giants version is used in Season 2 Episode 16 "Just Say Me" of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
  • The They Might Be Giants version is used in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Tiny Toons Music Television", The Plucky Duck Show episode and The Simpsons episode "Mobile Homer" at the end of the episode after Simpsons are collected by a Turkish cargo ship.
  • A few lines of the song were sung in the film Mona Lisa Smile and it is on the official soundtrack. The Harvard Din and Tonics perform the song in the film.
  • 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.[5]
  • On CBS' Cold Case, the 2008 episode "Pin Up Girl" features a scene set 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.
  • In the TV Series Raising Hope, Maw Maw is a pro at Jenga while listening to the song.
  • 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.[6]
  • The song is featured in Just Dance Kids 2 and Just Dance 4, both by publisher Ubisoft. It's later featured in Just Dance Unlimited (Just Dance 2016, Just Dance 2017, and Just Dance 2018) and Just Dance Now, this only applies to the latter version mentioned above.
  • In Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced, a level is named "Now it's Istanbul".
  • Chapter 2 of Jacques Steinberg's book The Gatekeepers is titled "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
  • 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.
  • On the TV show Bunheads, season 1 episode 6 concludes with Sasha, one of the main characters, leads a fantasy contemporary ballet dance number set to the They Might Be Giants version, in the form of a pas de trois.
  • In Let England Shake, PJ Harvey based the title song's rhythm on this song, as she revealed in a conversation with Paul Muldoon on 6 July 2017[7].
  • In episode 1 of the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, the They Might Be Giants cover of the song plays during a choreographed fight scene at Griddy's Doughnuts with Number Five.[8][9]


  1. ^ ""Roll Your Own" Radio Show". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. ^ "Gold & Platinum certification of albums at RIAA". Archived from the original on June 8, 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help) Retrieved November 26, 2006.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940–1955. Record Research. (Source gives 10/17/1953 as the date that it reached the Billboard charts, see p. 23)
  4. ^ "Monsieur Camembert – Live on Stage". Discogs. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  5. ^ [1] Archived July 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Craig Ferguson – Istanbul". Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  7. ^ awamwb (2018-02-21), Paul Muldoon in conversation with PJ Harvey, retrieved 2018-10-23
  8. ^ "'The Umbrella Academy' Has The Best Soundtrack On TV; Gerard Way And Steve Blackman Explain Why". 2019-02-19. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  9. ^ "Every Song In The Umbrella Academy Season 1". ScreenRant. 2019-02-15. Retrieved 2019-02-21.

External links[edit]