TEHRAN - Rock band Queen, fronted by outlandish gay icon Freddie Mercury, have become the first rock band to be given the official seal of approval in Iran with the release of an album of their greatest hits, a source in the company that released the album said Monday.
Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, was proud of his Iranian ancestry and supposed Zoroastrian origins, which made Queen one of the most popular bands in Iran, but western music is largely frowned upon in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime.
"Authorities approved of the tunes that had a social theme, leaving out the love songs," an executive in the company said.
The album contains smash hits such as "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Miracle" and "I Want to Break Free".
Western music is strictly censored in Iran and those selling foreign music need special permits, although millions of bootlegged banned CDs and cassettes are sold on the black market throughout the country.
The album is already selling very well. "It is the first rock album to hit the market legally and people are surprised and pleased to see it has the lyrics, not just the music," said Akbar Safari, a salesman at a Tehran book and record store.
The cassette, costing less than one US dollar, comes complete with explanatory leaflet, which tells rock fans that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution he calls God in Arabic, "Bismillah", and so regains his soul from Satan.
Other western acts to have had albums of selected songs released on the official Iranian market are Elton John, Julio Iglesias and Gypsy Kings.
There are also books containing original and translated lyrics by many western singers such as Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion and even white rap artist Eminem, published to respond to the ever increasing demands of a nation where 70 percent of the population is under 30.