Istanbul (Not They Might Be Giants)

So I just had my mind blown, and felt a need to share it with the world. This is some serious shit here. It turns out that They Might Be Giants did not write the song Istanbul (Not Constantinople)!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song, you can hear it here, and for those who need them, the lyrics are here. For all those who understand how crazy this is already, I would like to present to you the original Istanbul (Not Constantinople), by The Four Lads:


  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It was a fun jazz (almost-)standard for a long time. (or maybe it just seems a long time to me because it was around before I was born)

    Ella was known to sing it from time to time, and on one of her live albums when she’s scatting and bopping and sliding around from one song to another improvisationally she sings a few lines of I(NC). It might even be Live at the Montreux Jass Festival, but I can’t be sure of that. Maybe it was a less-famous album.

    Anyway, yeah. I went to wikipedia because you mentioned this to find out who actually wrote it. I hadn’t remembered the writing credits, but knew that I didn’t remember the Four Lads. You’re right that they are the original performers. The original writers are not members, however.

    Also interesting to note: TFL are a Canadian group. Huh.

  2. says

    I got a feeling you’re younger than Caine and I. I’m 41 and as a wee child I’d heard an earlier version first. The Johns make no secret of the covers they perform, but people aren’t very good about noticing these things.

    Not that one should have to be, but sometimes it can be a good idea to try. Someone made a documentary about TMBG, seemed like it was more about the fandom, and the trailer had famous people reading their lyrics “importantly.”

    Unfortunately, one of the songs they quoted was another cover – “New York City,” originally by Cub. Watching that trailer made me crumple in embarrassment.

  3. says

    I never really paid much attention to pop culture growing up, so most of what I was exposed to was through my brother, who was very fond of They Might Be Giants.

    And yes, I’m a millennial.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    And yes, I’m a millennial.

    That makes sense. Being older doesn’t make one better in any sense but it does provide more time to pick up useless trivia.

  5. blf says

    Heh. Whilst I have no recollection of hearing any version but TMBG’s, despite being old enough to have casually heard several, for some reason I did know they didn’t write it.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    I had a similar shock of realisation experience when playing Grand Theft Auto several years ago. One of the radio stations played a song which seemed vaguely familiar. Then it clicked: it was the original “Tainted Love”. I thought Soft Cell had written that one.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I’m just going to leave some of these here:
    Tainted Love by Gloria Jones.
    Without You not by Harry Nilsson (or possibly Mariah Carey), but Badfinger.
    Girls Just Wanna Have Fun:
    An intriguing one is “Respect”, which sung by Aretha Franklin has a very definite message, and sung in the original version by Otis Redding has a rather different message…

  8. suttkus says

    Johnny Cash released “The Gambler” before Kenny Rodgers. And he wasn’t the first!

  9. cartomancer says

    In actual fact it’s the business of the medieval Greeks why Constantinople got the works. The name Istanbul comes from the medieval Greek phrase στην Πόλη (stin poli – “down in the city”), and is attested from about the Tenth Century as the informal name of the place among the common people – long before the Ottoman Turks took over. The modern single-word form Istanbul is just that but with Turkish orthography. Though, even then, the Turks tended to use Constantinople for many official purposes well into the Nineteenth Century, alongside Istanbul for others.

    It’s all moot anyway. The original Greek city was founded as Byzantion, and there was a Thracian village there before called Lygos. Though, I will admit, “Byzantion (not Lygos)” doesn’t really fit the metre of the song…

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