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. It was written on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. The lyrics humorously refer to the official 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 cover of it was released in 1987 by Big Muffin Serious Band, and in 1990 a rock cover by They Might Be Giants was released.

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]

Frankie Vaughan[edit]

Frankie Vaughan's 1954 version for HMV reached the UK charts that year with a peak position of No. 11.[4]

The Big Muffin Serious Band[edit]

This eclectic but lesser known group from New Zealand released a fun cover on their LP "Jabberwocky Goes To Town" in 1987.[5]

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 (1990-05-14)
Composer(s)Nat Simon
Lyricist(s)Jimmy Kennedy
They Might Be Giants singles chronology
"Birdhouse in Your Soul"
"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
Music video
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on YouTube

One of the best-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 MTV's Liquid Television. An animated version appeared on the series Tiny Toon Adventures' episode "Tiny Toon Music Television", featuring Plucky Duck as a private detective hired to find a missing statue. The single reached number 61 on the UK Singles Chart in 1990.[6] TMBG also later recorded an electronic version of the song for their 2011 compilation album, Album Raises New and Troubling Questions. Their version is also featured in the first season of The Umbrella Academy.

The Sacados[edit]

A Spanish language version called "Estambul" was recorded by Argentine synth-pop trio The Sacados in 1990. The song was included on their debut album "Te pido + respeto" (1990).

Bart & Baker[edit]

Electro Swing duo Bart & Baker covered the song for their album "The Jet Lag EP" (2012).[7] Another version called "Istanbul 2016" was included on their curation album "Best Of Electro Swing By Bart & Baker" (2016). [8]

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.

During the 2000s, the song was performed live by Australian Klezmer/Gypsy Jazz band Monsieur Camembert, appearing on the album Live on Stage.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The lyrics were used in the February 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.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • The song is featured prominently in a 2008 episode of the tv series Cold Case called Pin-up Girl.
  • 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.[11]
  • The song is featured in Just Dance Kids 2 and Just Dance 4, both by publisher Ubisoft . It was 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, leading 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.[12]
  • In 2019, the They Might Be Giants version was featured in the soundtrack to the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy and was used for a fight scene in the first episode.
  • In 2010, Season 1 Episode 3 ("Dream Hoarders") of Raising Hope featured the Four Lads version at the beginning of the episode when the character Maw Maw is playing Jenga and later in the episode, the They Might Be Giants version plays when Maw Maw is removing the hoarded goods Jenga-style to free baby Hope.
  • In 2005, Season 16 Episode 13 ("Mobile Homer") of The Simpsons featured the They Might Be Giants version at the very end of the episode as the Simpson family dine on a Turkish freighter with its crew.


  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. 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. ^ Roberts, David (2005). British Hit Singles & Albums (2005 ed.). London: Guinness World Records. p. 531. ISBN 1-904994-00-8.
  5. ^ "Big Muffin Serious Band – Jabberwocky Goes To Town (1987, Vinyl)". Retrieved Apr 25, 2021 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Roberts, David (2005). British Hit Singles & Albums (2005 ed.). London: Guinness World Records. p. 507. ISBN 1-904994-00-8.
  7. ^ "Bart & Baker – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". Retrieved Apr 25, 2021 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "Bart&Baker". Apple Books. Retrieved Apr 25, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Jack Benny Program, February 21, 1954" (PDF). Old Time Radio Researchers Group. p. 212. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  10. ^ [1] Archived July 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Craig Ferguson – Istanbul". Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  12. ^ awamwb (2018-02-21), Paul Muldoon in conversation with PJ Harvey, retrieved 2018-10-23