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Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

by

They Might Be Giants



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) was covered by They Might Be Giants, but over 30 years before that, it peaked at #10 on the Billboard chart in 1953, sung by The Four Lads. The words were written by Jimmy Kennedy and the music by Nat Simon. (thanks, Jennifer - Rock Hill, SC)
Named after Constantine The Great, Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for 11 centuries. It was conquered by the Ottoman Empire (The Turks) in the 15th century. It's name was changed to Istanbul in 1930.
They Might Be Giants guitarist John Flansburgh told Rolling Stone: "This song I knew from my childhood, and we learned it simply to have more songs in our repertoire. It was in the show for a couple of years, and John and I would perform without the drum machine. It had a very spaced out middle section where we would basically yodel into an echo effect and it all went very, very trippy. It always got a good response, and when we got our fancy Casio FZ-1 samplers, this track was one of the things we put together to test it out."
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Comments (25):

Concerning The Four Lads; between Sept. 1955 & April 1956 they charted three times in the Top Three; MOMENTS TO REMEMBER {#2 for 6 weeks}, NO, NOT MUCH {#2 for 4 weeks, and STANDING ON THE CORNER {peaking at #3}...
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Fred in Laurel: Ragg Mopp was by the Ames Brothers. Maybe I had the same recording you did! Today, we can hear those classics on Amanda Wilde's "Swing Years & Beyond", on KUOW's audio stream.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
Oh, and here's a "son-of-a-gun, I never noticed that!" moment--I couldn't believe I had missed it, when I heard someone point it out--this tune has (very nearly) the same melody as "Puttin' on the Ritz." The accents fall differently, so it's kind of a disguised resemblance. I guess the two melodies are sort of fraternal, not identical, twins.
- Fred, Laurel, MD
I remember my Dad singing us kids this song when I was little, which was B.E. (Before Elvis). I'm not sure we thought it was for real; it was goofy in a big-band-era vein, like "R-A-G-G, M-O-P-P, rag mop!" Anybody remember that one? Anyway, back then I used to dig Spike Jones, now I like TMBG. Always wondered why, when I was still listening to him, that Dr. Demento didn't hit on TMBG's songs. (Trivium: Sigourney Weaver's father, 'Doodles' Weaver, used to be a singer with Spike Jones' band). Anyway, my littlest sis (not yet born when this song came out originally) turned me on to TMBG in 1990, when the Flood album came out. Years later I discovered their first two albums, 'TMBG' and 'Lincoln,' along with their EPs, in the form of a double-CD set titled, "Then". Another trivium: before it was Constantinople, it was Byzantium. So its name has changed twice. Also, the renaming of New Amsterdam to New York (I think it was just the city, not the colony/state) was done by the Brits, when they took it away from the Dutch. So it was the British who "liked it better that way." Not too hard to see that one coming. Who knows, maybe the expedition was financed by the Duke of York; anybody know?
- Fred, Laurel, MD
Hey my last name is Turk.
Thats awsome
- Trevor, Winder, GA
The story of how Constantinople got the works is in The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volume III. 'Stanbul!
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
This song has been feature on Tiny Toon adventure and Kablaam.
- John, Marlborough, MA
I remember as a kid that anytime I saw something on a cartoon or a tv show about the Middle East the background music playing would almost always be "Instanbul". I've heard both the Four Lads' original and the cover by They Might Be Giants and the latter is definitely the better version of the two.
- Sam, Lincoln, NE
I used this song as an energizer at church camp, too (presbyterian)
- David, Brentwood, TN
Great song. I was reading through my grandmonther's HS yearbook, and one of the popular songs was Istanbul. Cool surprise.
Hey Steph, I too used to go to church camps and do energizers, I'm presbyterian, are you as well, or does another religion subject it's youth to that kinda stuff?
- Jason, Middletown, NY
They Might Be Giants is the same band that plays the Malcom in the Middle theme
- Alex, Fort Mill, SC
The name was changed when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453 but many (most?) westerners still called it Constantinople until whenever.
- Ralph, Newton, MA
The prolific jazz guitarist Al Caiola recorded a cute instrumental "space age pop" version of this in the early 1960s.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
About the comment that the name change was earlier than 1930... In fact, the name Istanbul (or Stamboul) derives from a contraction of the name, sort of like Frisco for San Francisco. An interesting sidenote, the Greeks still call the city Constantinople.
- Ryan, Poway, CA
Good stuff, by another under-rated band. I got hooked on the album "Flood" back in the 1994. This is such good fun music, who cares if it all makes sense or not. I feel they have been denied their place in the world of music, but I see there are plenty of us who enjoy what they do so....
- Dee, Indianapolis, IN
to those who want to listen it in another language, the artist is dario moreno and the name of the song is istanbul. About the songfacts there is a poem written in the 16th century using the name 'Istanbul' for the city, which means the date of the change is not 1930;)
- neon, istanbul, Turkey
dude, my 7th grade history teacher played this to teach us the difference, and i swear, it has been stuck in my mind...it helped me on many tests since then...
- Anastasia, anaheim, CA
go to sweetjebus.com and check out the media for some tmbg vids made by a student at my hischool
- Rob, Castaic, CA
I think the best way to describe TMBG is "quirky." A pretty good example of this is their song "James K. Polk" which sounds like they just took a paragraph written about President James K. Polk from a history textbook and made it into a song. TMBG are certainly an interesting and off-the-wall group.
- Ben, Harrisburg, PA
Aside from the Tiny Toons short, I've seen another video for this song, although I only ever saw it once years ago on MTV's short-lived animation program, "Liquid Television." The animation was done by J. Otto Siebold (jotto.com) who is perhaps best known nowadays for "Olive, the Other Reindeer."
- Jessica, Saint Louis, MO
Back in the day when I used to go on church trips, we always did an "energizer" to this song. very bouncy and jumpy.
- Stephanie, Ellicott City, MD
i also love tmbg. i hoped they would have a lot more songs. my favorites are birdhouse in your soul, new york city, and don't let's start. go to tmbg.org to get meanings to most of their songs
- jon, wilton, CT
The line "Even old New York was once New Amsterdam" relates to that present-day New York State was originally named New Amsterdam when it was settled by the Dutch in 1654. It was renamed New York ten years later.
- Patrick, Conyers, GA
Along with the song "Particle Man," the only known video for this song was produced for the TV series "Tiny Toon Adventures" in the early 1990s (90-92). In the video, Plucky Duck is sent to Istanbul, and is hired to guard a priceless statue of a duck, the whole plot being somewhat a parody of the Humphrey Bogart classic, "The Maltese Falcon." IN the end, the statue breaks several times to the tune of the tambourine played in the song, and Plucky's punishment is to stand on the pedistal as a statue stand-in.
- Patrick, Conyers, GA
Hmmmmm. I would have thought the TMBG forum would be bigger. Although I AM a fan of their music,I think I speak for everyone when I say I have NO CLUE what ANY of their songs are about. I was hoping to gain some enlightenment. =)
- Jennie, Jacksonville, FL
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