Tuesday, August 29, 2006

ISTANBUL NOT CONSTANTINOPLE

If they told you once, they told you five times:
ISTANBUL, NOT CONSTANTINOPLE!
The Four Lads told you in the 50's, and so did
2. Caterina Valente (so many ways to spell her name wrong!)
3. Trevor Horn
4. Moxy Fruvois
5. They Might Be Giants

The question...why such continuing enthusiasm for a novelty song about ethnic identity?
Having a white person faking a Middle Eastern yowl is not very PC, nor is the use of snake-charmer woodwinds and a camel-clop boogie beat. It's remarkable that nobody's called for this dopey, catchy song to be banned (like, say, a certain bunch of novelty newspaper cartoons).
Do you know why it's ISTANBUL and not CONSTANTINOPLE?
Well, Students, centuries ago the city was named for emperor Constantine, and was part of the conquering empire of Greece. This didn't thrill the Turks, who got tired of bending over to the Greeks. When Greek road signs announced "Stanbulin" (meaning, "To the City"), some Turks made it "Islambol" ("Islam abounds"). "Stamboul" became a popular nickname for the place.
Around the 1920's, the Ottomon empire officially collapsed (terrible news if you were sitting on an ottoman at the time). Mustafa Kemel, who himself preferred another name (Kemel Ataturk, aka "Father of the Turks") officially proclaimed Turkish independence from past rulers and changed the name to Istanbul. But around the world, it was still Constantinople.
As late as the 50's, Turkey was roasting with hostility over this insult, and that led to...a novelty song that went a long way toward setting everything straight! With radio-commercial repetition ("Instanbul! Not Constantinople!") and a jocular basso refrain ("people just liked it better that way") The Four Lads told the world and the world...listened!
The power of humor! A musical elbow in the ribs got the world to call Constantinople Istanbul! Handling things with a dash of comedy worked wonders!
Right?
Somehow despite Middle East tensions, this tune with it's stereotypical Persian Market (!) instrumentation and air-rending Arabic (!) yodels, still gets covered. Perhaps it still needs to be. In Greece, Turkey's town is still called Konstantinopolis by those who feel "after all we did for you" the place should still acknowledge its past. Some Greek-made maps don't even add Istanbul in parenthesis. But most everywhere else (all together) it's ISTANBUL not CONSTANTINOPLE.
That's your lesson in trivia, ethnic sensitivity and pride. Download or not. It's nobody's business but your own.


Update: the Rapidshare link died around December 15th, from lack of activity, and the UPLOADED file expired on a re-up. Not a popular entry on the blog?? Well...so it won't be a total loss, here's two tracks upped as singles:

FOUR LADS! Download or listen on line.
AND THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

great blog, but many posts are dead... think maybe some reposts?

Ill Folks said...

Yes, some stuff I can re-post...single songs are always easy. I'll try and check what I can resuscitate and what's permanently mouldy.

If Rapidshare stays fast on the trigger I'll try and find a second uploader with a more liberal (60-90 days without activity) deletion policy.

heystella said...

Awesome! Reading your blog about Istanbul (Not Constantinople) made me smirk because I, too, have been the down the long and winding Istanbul (Not Constantinople) rabbit hole, the summer of 2012.

I’m not sure if I knew the song because of my comedic father’s rendition (he has of a slew of novelty songs from 1939-1959 in his head), or if it was on Dr. Demento’s high rotation list, or because I was addicted to thriftstore shopping as an undergraduate: when unable to score an awesome piece of mid-century clothing or groovy-form-before-functional housewares, I’d default to the record section. So, I’d scored The Four Lads’ Columbia 78, probably around 1982, just a wee bit before They Might Be Giants covered it anew.

Fast forward thirty years, and I’m revisiting the career of The Chordettes, my homegirls from Wisconsin, and their producer, Archie Bleyer. During that same decade of anthropological thriftstore digs, I started a collection of the Chordettes’ “oeuvre,” especially after Bleyer married one of them, started his own label, and took over as their producer. His skills in composing, arranging, and producing songs with a huge dose of absolute CUCKOO amaze me. Not hokey, like Columbia's Director of A&R Mitch Miller's bag of schlock. Bleyer is top-drawer bonkers. As music director/conductor for Arthur Godfrey's radio and subsequent TV programs, I'm sure that Bleyer’s influence and sense of fun was a HUGE factor of mean, ol’ Arthur Godfrey’s popularity... until Godfrey fired Bleyer and Julius La Rosa during a live broadcast.

Bleyer's orchestra’s cover of “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane” hit the record stores about a month after the hit version by The Ames Brothers. The “Naughty Lady” led me to Chiemi Eri SWINGING the same track in Japanese & English! Backed by The Tokyo Cuban Boys! Ok, that blew. My. Mind. Minutes later, when I found Chiemi Eri’s cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” I’m sure my facial expression was like the Tex Avery “melting” version of my face. And how much do I love youtube for furthering my music education?!

I went on to find the Caterina Valente version of “I.(N.C.).,” and then, the insanely long version fran├žais, punctuated with bop-orchestrations by Raymond Legrand et son Orchestre. I also realized there was a cover by Joe 'Fingers' Carr with the Carr-Hops & 80 Drums in my library, from Capitol's Ultra-Lounge CD series. So, the ethnic insensitivity of the song’s lyrics and musical arrangement reached far beyond The Four Lads of the USA: the song’s hypnotic power compelled ethnic insensitivity all over the globe. But it’s such a catchy tune...

I did NOT know about the Greek “to the city” signs, so thanks for that. I’ll pass on Trevor Horn, but the next time I’m compelled to fall into the Istanbul (Not Constantinople) rabbit hole, I will look into Moxy Fruvois.

I’m glad I accidentally stopped by.

Gary
gary.stella@gmail.com