The recent Beatles anthology on the American ABC television network reminded me of Beatlemania days in the '60s in Tehran when I was a teenager. I remember all the sensation about the Beatles, or “Beatelha,” as we called them (I even heard the double plural, “Beatles-ha”, used on a few occasions).
It may be argued that Western pop culture has always had some influence on Iranian urban youth; but that influence was exceptionally intense in the late '60s and early '70s. I realize that, even in those days, these influences affected only a minority of Iranians.
But the real issue was how visible and controversial this Beatles phenomenon was. Part of the picture was the efforts of the government at that time to promote Western culture and values through state-controlled media.
Overall, the Beatles became the symbol of many hot-button social issues, such as youthful rebellion against traditions, Western cultural influence (“gharb-zadegi“) and many more.
I first heard of the Beatles sometime around 1964, when I was a sixth-grader in Tehran. I remember my classmates' interest in them and the disgust that my parents' generation expressed in their long hair and qerty manners. Little did they know that the early mop-top Beatles hairstyle was nothing compared to more outrageous styles that appeared later among middle-class Iranians exposed to Western culture.
Then when I went to high school, the whole Beatles thing became even more intense. We lived through most of those years with talk of the Beatles and exchange of their 45s and LPs and sheet music. Many of the young fans were not flunkies or dropouts, but serious, studious students.
Very soon Beatles-imitation bands formed in Tehran. The most notable of them was the one started by Shahram Shabpareh (I do not remember the name of the group; it was an English name like “Golden Rings” or something like that). There were also other similar bands, like “Ojoobeh-ha.” These groups, which often played on TV, sang mostly in English (or sounded like English), and occasionally used Persian lyrics.
At some time in that amazing era, probably in 1966, Paul McCartney himself made a short, live appearance on Iranian national TV. Apparently his plane had a stop-over in Tehran and he agreed to come to the TV station and give a short interview.
The problem was that he did not seem interested in answering questions seriously. He played with his camera and practiced a few Persian words he had learned, like aks nageer (do not take pictures). He was apparently annoyed with security officials who did not let him take pictures. Some viewers, especially the older generation were unhappy with McCartney's manners, and thought he was making fun of Iranians as a whole.
Anyway, years passed by, the Beatles broke up, and by the mid-'70s and the years leading to the revolution, Iranian interest in Western pop culture declined. The Iranian Beatles-like groups broke up too and those who started them, like Shahram Shabpareh, went after a new form of music, a mix of Iranian and Western tunes, which is now quite popular and mostly comes out of Los Angeles.
In my recent trip to Iran I found out that this Iranian pop style is quite popular there and is played a lot at parties. Not my taste personally, but at least in an indirect way, a lot of Iranian pop music today owes something to the Beatles.