Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul
Istanbul is a massive historical city that has a deep and rich history. Since its establishment around 3.000 years ago, it has been the home of various civilizations and cultures. With its natural beauties and historical structures, Istanbul has always been an inspiration for poets, novelists, artists and musicians. Therefore, it is no surprise that so many songs have been composed mentioning Istanbul until today. From Tom Waist to The Four Lads, from Marc Almond to Turkish rocker Teoman, numerous musicians composed songs that reflect the magical and romantic essence of the city.
In this list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul”, we will talk about the most well-known songs mentioning Istanbul. Let’s get started!
1) Telephone Call from Istanbul – by Tom Waits
Probably the most famous musician that composed a song about Istanbul is American singer Tom Waits. Tom Waits, who won two Grammy Awards in 1993 and 2000, released the song “Telephone Call from Istanbul” in his album “Franks Wild Years” in 1987. In this song, Waits talks about his girlfriend who called her from Istanbul and told that she will be at home soon.
“I was all night long
On the broken glass
Living in a medicine chest
Mediteromanian hotel back
A roll top desk
I got a telephone call from Istanbul
My baby’s coming home today.”
This song was covered various times by other singers and bands as well, like Belle Chase Hotel and The God Damn Liars and became a popular piece of art among music lovers.
2) She Took my Soul in Istanbul – by Marc Almond
Another well-known song on our list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul” is British star Marc Almond’s song “She Took my Soul in Istanbul”. Almond released this song in his album “The Stars We Are” in 1988. In this song, Almond pictures an orientalist atmosphere by talking about the smell of Turkish oil, tobacco and hashish when he met a girl in a bar in Istanbul. Almond sings:
“The scent of Turkish oils
Mixed with the harsh tobacco
In the overcrowded bar
And cool mint in her hair
I was a fool for love
I was a fool”
Later in 1995, Almond produced another album called “Treasure Box” and covered this song by making it a 10 minutes long remix titled “The Blue Mosque Remix”.
3) Istanbul, not Constantinople – by The Four Lads
When the word “Istanbul” pronounced, it reminds many people one definite song: “Istanbul, not Constantinople”. Even though this song was composed by Canadian Jazz Band “The Four Lads” in 1953, it became famous after it was covered by American band “They Might Be Giants” in 1989.
This song touches a sensitive issue in a humorous way. As it is known, the insistence of some foreigners to call Istanbul “Constantinople” makes Turkish people angry for generations. That’s why; Turks enter into discussions with non-Turkish people whenever this issue is brought up. In this jazz song, the Four Lads promote the Turkish side of the disagreement in an entertaining way:
“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night
Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way
So, take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”
With its funny lyrics and rhythmic music, “Istanbul, not Constantinople” has always been a popular song and was used in various TV shows like “The Umbrella Academy”, “Raising Hope”, “The Muppets” and “Looney Tunes”. It was also covered by several bands and singers including Frankie Vaughan, Caterina Valente and the Sacados.
4) Istanbul – by Levent Yüksel
In our list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul”, the fourth place belongs to a song that hit the music charts in Turkey in 1990s. The song titled “Istanbul” was written by Sezen Aksu and Fahir Atakoğlu and performed by Turkish pop star Levent Yüksel in 1993. “Istanbul” was one of the leading songs in Levent Yüksel’s debut album “Med Cezir” and soon became a sensation among Turkish music lovers.
In this song, Istanbul is described as a beautiful woman and her attractive features are mentioned one by one:
“Let me hold your waist as if you are a woman, as if you are a mare
I have memorized your longing like a spell, like a prayer
Istanbul, my darling, come and let me kiss your dewlap”
This song helped Levent Yüksel to become one of the most popular singers in Turkey. Even 17 years after the release of this song, it is still regarded as one of the cornerstones of modern Turkish pop and an excellent piece of art describing Istanbul in the most creative way.
5) Bu Sabah Yağmur Var İstanbul’da (This Morning There is Rain in Istanbul) – by MFO
One of the most unforgettable songs of the 90s Turkish pop is without question MFO’s hit song “Bu Sabah Yağmur Var İstanbul’da” (This Morning There is Rain in Istanbul). Composed and performed by MFO (a pop band consisting of Mazhar Alanson, Fuat Güner and Ozkan Uğur) in 1984, “This Morning There is Rain in Istanbul” is regarded as one of the most impressive songs of Turkish music history.
In this song, the depressing and painful longing to a lover is described while Istanbul is in the background:
“This morning there is rain in Istanbul
My eyes are watery, I don’t know why
Like listening to my mother’s words
I cried this morning
The days are unbearable when I am away from you
The songs have become sad, even they cried
Thinking of you in songs
Will not bring you to me”
Even though this song was introduced in 1984, it is still a very popular art piece and is one of the most favorite songs of MFO fans.
6) Bekle Bizi Istanbul (Wait for us Istanbul) – by Edip Akbayram
In our list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul”, “Bekle Bizi Istanbul” is the only political one.
This song was composed by Onur Akın, performed by Edip Akbayram and its lyrics were taken from famous Turkish poet Vedat Türkali’s poem that has the same title.
“Wait for us Istanbul” tells the hardships of the working class and promotes socialist values claiming that workers will rise one day and take over Istanbul. The song emphasizes the poverty of common people and criticizes the greed of the capital owners. In the song, it is said:
“We didn’t suffer for nothing
Wait for us with your huge Süleymaniye Mosque
Wait for us with your parks, bridges and squares
Wait for us Istanbul
We will destroy the rule of the tyrants
Wait for those days to come
Wait for us to parade with the songs of victory
Wait for us Istanbul!”
After it was composed by Onur Akın and performed by Edip Akbayram, who are well known leftist artist in Turkey, “Wait for us Istanbul” has become one of the most unforgettable songs of the revolutionists. Since its release in 1994, “Wait for us Istanbul” has been widely used in the political events of leftist people all around Turkey.
7) Istanbul’da Sonbahar (Autumn in Istanbul) – by Teoman
“Istanbul’da Sonbahar” (Autumn in Istanbul) is a highly impressive and at the same time depressing song that uses a similar technique with “This Morning There is Rain in Istanbul” by MFO and “Istanbul” by Levent Yüksel. In this slow paced song, Istanbul is resembled to a woman while Teoman’s childhood days and his relationship with his family are mentioned:
“Whenever seasonal winds blow
At that moment, I remember
My childhood dreams
And my paper kites
My mom kisses me on my cheek
As if all the people I love are
In a beautiful dream
While they are alive
Istanbul is tired today
She is sad and old
Gained a bit weight
She cried again
Her mascara is leaking”
This slow song, performed only with a guitar and a piano, became one of the most loved songs of Turkish rocker Teoman’s “Gönülçelen” album released in 2001 which carried Teoman to the top of Turkish rocker community. Since that time, “Autumn in Istanbul” is regarded as one of the most iconic songs of Turkish music history.
8) Aziz Istanbul (Precious Istanbul) – by Münir Nurettin Selçuk
Aziz Istanbul is the only classical Turkish song in our list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul”. The lyrics of this unique song were taken from Yahya Kemal Beyatlı’s poem “From Another Hill” and its music was composed by Münir Nurettin Selçuk, who had been the most remarkable name of Turkish classical music history. Münir Nurettin also performed this song and made it an iconic piece of art that will live for generations.
In this song, Selçuk addresses the city of Istanbul and tells her how much he loves this city:
“Yesterday, I looked at you from a hill, precious Istanbul!
There is no single place in you I haven’t seen, visited or loved.
Stay in my heart as long as I live!
Even loving your one neighborhood is worth a lifetime.”
Altough this song was composed and first performed in 1948, it still keeps its popularity among music lovers. “Precious Istanbul”s classic sound and the use of traditional Turkish instruments doesn’t make it to lose its value by the time, in contrary, it manages to bring different generations together.
9) Istanbul’da (In Istanbul) – by Mirkelam
In our list, another famous song about Istanbul is “Istanbul’da” (In Istanbul) by Mirkelam who rocked Turkish music market during 1990s.
“In Istanbul” is an emotional song that was in Mirkelam’s debut album “Her Gece” released in 1995. After the release of this album, Mirkelam became a phenomenon both because of the quality of his music and also the excellent marketing strategy of his record company.
“In Istanbul” had a big share in Mirkelam’s massive success. In a short time, this slow song was begun to be regarded as one of the best emotional songs of Turkish pop history.
“I am in a bar in Istanbul
A glass of wine is in front of me
I miss you so much
Even though I am here to have fun
My friends came soon after and sat at my table
I didn’t think of you at that moment
Because I was with them
In Istanbul, in Istanbul”
Even though in his next albums, Mirkelam couldn’t keep up the success he had in his first album, “In Istanbul” is still remembered as one of the most emotional songs on Istanbul.
10) Yedikule – by Yeni Türkü
And the final song in our list of “Top 10 Most Famous Songs about Istanbul” is “Yedikule”. Yedikule is a song written, composed and performed by famous Turkish band “Yeni Türkü”. This song was introduced in Yeni Türkü’s album titled “Aşk Yeniden” in 1992.
“Yedikule” was composed with the inspiration of “rebetiko” style, which originated from Greece. It tells the story of criminals, who were secretly smoking weed and making music in the underground pubs of Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire era. In this song, we listen to such a criminal who got caught by the Ottoman police and sent to jail in Yedikule, a place in Istanbul well-known with its dungeons.
“Someone snitched me to the state
I spent five years in prison
Yedikule is even worse than
The prisons of Europe
My hookah is smoky
I am so overwhelmed
Istanbul is great
But its police officers are so formidable
My weed burns so good
I smoke it slowly
Our lodge is great
But there are snitches among us”
Istanbul has been an inspiration for musicians who have different taste and style of music. From pop singers to rockers, from classical musicians to folk singers, many composers have made remarkable songs mentioning and praising Istanbul. Even though there are many more songs about Istanbul, the above given songs are the most popular ones. As long as Istanbul keeps its unique cultural features, it will keep on being an inspiration for many more musicians.