One Random Single a Day: “C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E” (1928) by Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders

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This is the first single I’ve come across on the Random Single challenge that completely predates any of the music charts that we’ve come to know and love today. Not to be confused with the more well known single by The Four Lads “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (or their cover by They Might Be Giants), this song is much more simple in its base qualities. Originally written by Harry Carlton sometime in the 20s, it tells of the situation of a schoolteacher who tries to teach his “dunce” of a student to spell by reciting the now-defunct name of the Turkish city in a fun and catchy manner. This song, like many standards of the day, underwent a good number of cover versions from musicians and labels trying to cash in on its popularity. That doesn’t happen very often these days, but pretty much anything was up for grabs with the music industry of the 20s.

This song was actually originally recorded by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra, who was arguably the most popular recording artist of this decade. The reason why I bring this up is because I urge anyone listening to Johnny Hamp’s recording in lieu of this post to instead check out the original. They both clock in at just over three minutes, but Whiteman’s version is just so much better. While Whiteman and his men perform almost every known verse of the song (along with a silly talking interlude that possesses a certain “of its time” charm), the Kentucky Serenaders only sing the chorus a couple of times as the rest of the recording is devoted to the band playing off their sheet music. Instrumental tracks are all good and well, but “C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E” is very clearly a novelty song with humorous lyrics that should be elevated to its greatest potential. As such, Paul Whiteman’s version succeeds at exactly where Johnny Hamp’s fails, and the former is much more worthy of anyone’s time.

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