Monday, October 27, 2014

Elektra Records: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

The inspiration for using Elektra Records as this month’s feature was inspired by today’s song by They Might Be Giants. In early September I was making my weekly trek to my current position when I heard a National Public Radio’s Morning Edition story on a new crime novel set in old Byzantium. The author and the reporter briefly discussed the various names of what is now Istanbul. The story closed with They Might Be Giants’ rendition of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

Although known as Constantinople (and Byzantium before that), the name Istanbul is not a recent fabrication. Istanbul has been used for centuries as it is a corruption of the Greek phrase “εις την πόλιν (eis ten polin)” meaning “into the city.” The song, however, commemorates Turkey’s 1930 request that global postal authorities only use the name “Istanbul” and cease using “Constantinople.”

Written 23 years after the fact in 1953 by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon, the song was a hit for The Four Lads. The original charted at #10 and was certified gold. Keeping the swing arrangement, They Might Be Giants’ 1990 remake is a little more raucous than the original and its faster tempo makes it a perfect vehicle for They Might Be Giants’ unusual style. The fiddle also adds to the overall flavor of this version.

They Might Be Giants took their name from the title of a 1971 quixotic film starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. The title was a reference to Cervantes’ character Don Quixote’s belief that the windmills he was fighting were actually giants.

Unlike the original, the remake of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople) only charted at #61; however, it is better known as album cut from TMBG’s third LP, “Flood.” Of their 16 albums, “Flood” was the only one to be certified as platinum in the US.

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