In 1970, Capitol Records’ business was in trouble. The Beatles, the company’s top act, had passed away. Hits were rare in the remaining list. That year the company lost $ 8 million.
It needed a savior, and it found one in Bhaskar Menon, an Indian-born, Oxford-trained manager at EMI, the British conglomerate that owned the Capitol majority shareholder. He became the label’s new head in 1971 and quickly turned his finances around. In 1973 he achieved a gigantic hit with Pink Floyd’s album “The Dark Side of the Moon”. He later headed EMI’s global music business.
Mr. Menon, who was also the first Asian man to run a major Western record label, died on March 4th at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 86 years old.
The death was confirmed by his wife Sumitra Menon.
“Bhaskar Menon is committed to excellence and has made EMI a music powerhouse and one of our best-known global institutions,” said Lucian Grainge, general manager of Universal Music Group, which owns the Capitol label and EMI’s music recording business , in a statement following the death of Mr Menon.
Vijaya Bhaskar Menon was born on May 29, 1934 to a prominent family in Trivandrum, southern India (now Thiruvananthapuram). His father, KRK Menon, was the finance secretary under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru; The first one rupee notes issued after India gained independence from Great Britain bore his signature. Mr. Menon’s mother, Saraswathi, knew many of India’s leading classical musicians personally.
Mr. Menon studied at Doon School and St. Stephen’s College in India before obtaining a Masters degree from Christ Church, Oxford. His tutor at Oxford recommended him to Joseph Lockwood, chairman of EMI, and Mr. Menon began working there in 1956.
As a proud British institution, EMI controlled a vast musical empire with divisions in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. There, Mr. Menon assisted producer George Martin, who later became the Beatles’ chief collaborator.
In 1957, Mr. Menon joined the Gramophone Company of India, an EMI subsidiary. In 1965 he became managing director and 1969 chairman. Later in 1969 he was appointed Managing Director of EMI International.
Capitol, the Los Angeles label where Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee lived, has been hit by business missteps and declining sales, and EMI has appointed Mr. Menon as President and CEO. He has slashed Capitol’s list of artists, slashed budgets and pushed for more aggressive advertising for the label’s artists.
In 1972, Mr. Menon learned that Capitol was in danger of losing Pink Floyd’s next album, blaming the company for the poor sales of its previous albums in the United States. Mr Menon flew to the south of France, where Pink Floyd was performing, and after a nightly round of negotiations, they agreed on a deal. Mr. Menon thought of the terms on a cocktail napkin and brought it back to the Capitol Legal Department in Los Angeles, said Rupert Perry, a longtime manager at EMI and Capitol.
“The Dark Side of the Moon”, published by Capitol with a huge advertising campaign, was one of the biggest blockbusters in music history. It stayed on Billboard’s album list for 741 consecutive weeks and sold more than 15 million copies in the US alone.
Under the direction of Mr. Menon, Capitol continued to enjoy success with Bob Seger, Helen Reddy, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt, the Grand Funk Railroad, and others through the 1970s.
In 1978 EMI put its music departments under unified management as EMI Music Worldwide and appointed Mr. Menon as chairman and managing director. He stayed in this position until he left the music industry in 1990. From 2005 to 2016 he was a member of the board of directors of NDTV, an Indian news broadcaster. In 2011, a troubled EMI was sold to Sony, which bought its music publishing business, and Universal Music.
In a way, Mr. Menon was an outsider in the Southern California music scene.
“I was a very unusual and unlikely person who was sent here to take full command of Capitol under the circumstances,” Menon said in “Music Business History: The Mike Sigman Interviews,” 2016, citing industry magazine Hits collection.
Mr. Menon’s wife recalled in a telephone interview that Mr. Menon told her in 1972 when they were married, “There are only two Indians in LA: Ravi Shankar and me.” She told stories of the two men – old friends from India – who vainly searched the exclusive west side of the city for good Indian food.
In addition to his wife, two sons, Siddhartha and Vishnu, and a sister, Vasantha Menon, survive Mr. Menon.
Although known primarily as the manager of the business side of the labels he ran, Mr. Menon had the respect of many musicians. In the 2003 documentary, Pink Floyd: The Making of the Dark Side of the Moon, Nick Mason, the band’s drummer, recalled Mr. Menon’s efforts to promote the band’s breakthrough album and called him “absolutely great.”
“He decided he was going to do this job and get the American company to sell this record,” Mason said. “And he did.”