The Original "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

YouTube / Ulduz Mammadova
YouTube / Ulduz Mammadova / YouTube / Ulduz Mammadova

Although many Gen X music fans know the song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" as a They Might Be Giants song, it was first recorded by The Four Lads in in the early 1950s, and has been covered by tons of music greats including Bing Crosby (with Ella Fitzgerald), Bette Midler, and Santo & Johnny. But when I was a kid, I just assumed "Istanbul" was a TMBG original -- it was wacky enough to seem like something they'd write. Well, you learn something new every quarter-century, I guess.

Here's the original (which hit #10 on the Billboard chart in 1953), with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon, performed by The Four Lads:

And here's the sped-up version by They Might Be Giants, released in 1990 on the album Flood:

Younger fans may recognize this Tiny Toons Adventures video better:

According to the impressive page about the song from This Might Be a Wiki, John Flansburgh said this about the song:

"When we were recording the Flood album, we had bought these Casio FD-1 samplers. I basically spent a couple of weeks in my house recording every single thing I could figure out how to record and playing it back on the keyboard. And so all these things that you hear on Istanbul are samples, except for the violin solo at the beginning and the trumpet in the middle. The thing that sounds like an accordion is actually a melodica that's been sampled. In the 'Even old New York' part, it's a Coke bottle being blown into a chord. The song's got a very unusual texture."

Oh, Flood, you're still good 24 years later.