Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

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Music video for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”
Tiny Toons video
Screenshot from the official music video
Plucky as Linnell and Hamton as Flans in the Tiny Toons music video
Postcard advertising the song from the TMBG Info Club

song name Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Flood, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (EP), Dial-A-Song: 20 Years Of They Might Be Giants, A User's Guide To They Might Be Giants: Melody, Fidelity, Quantity, Rhino Hi-Five: They Might Be Giants, Flood + Apollo 18, 50,000,000 They Might Be Giants Songs Can't Be Wrong
year 1990
first played January 20, 1987 (1433 known performances)
run time 2:38
sung by John Flansburgh, John Linnell


Oh! You know what’s weird? I think John and I have completely different versions of why. I always thought that it was because I saw The Four Lads on television in the early eighties and told John about it – and maybe he would agree with this. I mean what happened was there was this television special about music from the fifties; and, by the eighties, there was this received idea that the fifties had been this rock and roll decade. And, if you watched the show, that clearly was not the angle they were going for, because there was no rock and roll involved. It was all Patti Page and The Four Lads and stuff like that – stuff that was like adult popular music. I was so impressed and The Four Lads came out and sang Istanbul and I wasn’t really familiar with the song, but I really loved it. So I remember talking to John about this. I think that he had already heard the song when he was growing up; so, according to him, he knew the song already. So I can’t necessarily claim that it was my idea to cover it because I can’t remember which of us finally said that we should do that song. I think that we had both come to it different ways. But, for me, it was sort of about this alternate history of music, which was not the clichéd one of the fifties being all about rock and roll. By the time of the early eighties, that was sort of the established idea, you know – that Dean Martin didn’t exist. Instead, it was all about Elvis Presley, you know?
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.
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.
  • Regarding recording the song, TMBG has stated, "We actually worked up this song from memory, and when putting the recording together made a point of not listening to the original."
  • During live performances, an elaborate instrumental solo will often be played to lead into the song. Dan Miller has played improvisational, acoustic guitar, and Curt Ramm the trumpet/valve trombone.
  • Two videos were made for this song:
    • Official music video - Features stop-motion animated papier-mâché sculptures by Mark Marek and hand-drawn animation by J. Otto Seibold. This version appeared at The Angelika Film Center Jan. 18, 1991 in a film fest about recent animations and on MTV's "Liquid Television" animation showcase. A New York Times reporter called it "inane fluff."
    • Tiny Toon Adventures video - The Tiny Toons video is partly a spoof of the 1964 movie, Topkapi (starring Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, and Peter Ustinov). The movie is about a petty con guy enlisted by international jewel thieves to steal a dagger with a huge emerald in the hilt, from the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul (dagger replaced by an emerald Plucky Duck in the video).
  • Flansburgh would mention the official video in a 1990 interview:
I chose the artists, and the production team as well as helping out on the storyboard. It adds a bit of colour to the music and it's nice to escape from the same old tired video techniques.

Song Themes

Cartoons, Cities, Educational, Fade Out, Geography, History, New York City, Not In Common Time, Not In Major Or Minor, Oxymorons, Paradoxes, And Contradictory Statements, Places (Real), Questions, TMBG Remakes, Two Chord Songs


  • Watch it on Youtube.png
  • Watch it on Vimeo.png
  • Watch it on Youtube.png - Tonight Show performance, April 3rd, 1990
  • Watch it on Youtube.png - Tiny Toons music video

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Istanbul (Not Constantinople) is currently ranked #271 out of 1009. (202 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.65)