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The Phantom Surfers ‎–Istanbul 7″


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Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the newly formed Republic of Turkey changed the name of the city of Constantinople to Istanbul. The city had been called many things over the years, but this marked a chance for the newly formed country to pick one, standardized name. But many people across the world still clung to calling it “Constantinople.” To get the rest of the world to adopt the new name, the country enacted the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930, which stated that any mail addressed to Constantinople would not be delivered anywhere in Istanbul. Twenty-three years later, that name change was then memorialized in a song. With lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was first recorded in 1953, by Canadian quartet The Four Lads. Incidentally, that year was also the 500th year anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. The song combined the style of swing with instruments associated with Middle Eastern music. Lyrically, the song was not so much driven by plot as it was by multiple repetitions of “Constantinople”:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople
Been a long time gone
Old Constantinople’s still has Turkish delight
On a moonlight night

Every gal in Constantinople
Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it, I can’t say
(People just liked it better that way)

Take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks’

On the one hand, the repeated utterance of the name Constantinople in the song seems mocking considering that the country of Turkey no longer wanted to recognize the name. Sure, the song recognizes the name change, but it’s done in a way akin to a kid who will stick his finger a millimetre from your skin and repeat, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.” The Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” first reached the Billboard charts in October 1953, eventually peaking at Number 10. That same year, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald recorded a version for the radio. Others that have made a cover version of the track includes Frankie Vaughan, Dario Moreno, Marie-José, Jacques Helian, Olavi Virta, Santo & Johnny, Caterina Valente, Bette Midler, Bruno And The Gladiators, They Might Be Giants, Saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Kenny Werner, Ska Cubano, Lee Press-On And The Nails, The Trevor Horn Orchestra , The Balibuts and the song even appeared on a 1997 episode of “Muppets Tonight.” Throughout the episode, a group of singing rats popped up to sing lines of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” starting with the beginning of the show, when host Clifford said “Muppets Tonight” could be seen “from Istanbul to Constantinople.” So there are several versions to choose from, but only a handful from artists that today’s casual pop culture fans would recognize. They Might Be Giants’ version is probably the best known version among people in their 40s or younger, but that probably has little to do with how well these people know Bette Midler’s or Bing Crosby’s back catalogues. Even the biggest music nerd in his 30s probably heard They Might Be Giants’ version first, because that version was everywhere: radio, MTV, and “Tiny Toon Adventures” and even “The Simpsons.” What we have on this single is a 1996 version of the song made by the Surf rock band The Phantom Surfers. The group’s instrumental track was more laid back than the previous surf versions of the song, as The Phantom Surfers focused solely on guitar and ditched the horns. The B-side is “Tokyo Twist” a surf twanger with an oriental feel.

Track list:
1. Istanbul
2. Tokyo Twist

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Lookout! Records

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