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Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on Wikipedia

"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 certified as a gold record.


  • 1 Musical influences
  • 2 The Four Lads original version
  • 3 Cover versions
    • 3.1 They Might Be Giants
      • 3.1.1 Track listing
      • 3.1.2 Sales chart history
    • 3.2 Other recordings
    • 3.3 Live performance cover versions
  • 4 Popular culture references
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

Musical influences

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

"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]

They Might Be Giants

"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
Elektra / WEA
Writer(s)Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon.
Producer(s)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.

Track listing

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

Other recordings

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

  • Bruno and The Gladiators, instrumental version titled "Estambul" (surf music from 1963 released by Vault Records)
  • 80 Drums Around the World (instrumental)
  • Edmundo Ros (1953)
  • Bing Crosby with Ella Fitzgerald (1953)
  • Frankie Vaughan (1954)
  • Caterina Valente (1954)
  • Renato Carosone
  • Darío Moreno (1954, in French)
  • Marie-José(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)
  • Eri Chiemi
  • Santo & Johnny (1962)
  • 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)
  • Oscar Aleman, instrumental version titled "Estambul" (2005)
  • Ska Cubano (2006)
  • Terrance Zdunich sings this song as Count Tarakan, the Badass Russian (2011)
  • Milan & Phoenix Pop/Rock cover (2012)

Live performance cover versions

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]

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.
  • 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".
  • 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.[4]
  • 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.[5]
  • 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.
  • The song is featured in Just Dance Kids 2 and Just Dance 4, both by publisher Ubisoft.
  • In Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced, a level is named "Now it's Istanbul".
  • Chapter 2 of Jacques Steinberg's bestselling 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, dancing to the They Might Be Giants version.


  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. ^ [1] Archived July 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Craig Ferguson – Istanbul". Retrieved November 5, 2011. 

External links

  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) EP on This Might Be A Wiki
  • "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (song) on This Might Be A Wiki

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