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Bhaskar Menon, who changed Capitol Records, dies at 86

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By Ben Sisario

In 1970, the Capitol Records business was in trouble. The Beatles, the main act of the company, had disappeared. The hits were meager among his remaining roster. That year, the company lost $ 8 million.

He needed a savior, and he found one in Bhaskar Menon, an Indian-born, Oxford-educated EMI executive, the British conglomerate that was the majority owner of Capitol. He became the new head of the label in 1971 and quickly changed his finances, fueling a gigantic hit in 1973 with Pink Floyd’s album “The Dark Side of the Moon.” He later directed EMI’s vast music operations around the world.

Menon, who was also the first Asian man to run a major Western record label, died on March 4 at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Hey 86.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Sumitra Menon.

“Determined to achieve excellence, Bhaskar Menon made EMI a music powerhouse and one of our most iconic global institutions,” Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group, owner of the Capitol label and recorded music business, said in a statement. from EMI. after Menon’s death.

Vijaya Bhaskar Menon was born on May 29, 1934 into a prominent family in Trivandrum, South India (now Thiruvananthapuram). His father, KRK Menon, was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s finance secretary; the first rupee notes issued after India’s independence from Great Britain bore his signature. Menon’s mother, Saraswathi, knew many of India’s leading classical musicians personally.

Menon studied at Doon School and St. Stephen’s College in India before earning a Master’s degree from Christ Church, Oxford. His tutor at Oxford recommended him to Joseph Lockwood, president of EMI, and Menon began working there in 1956.

A proud British institution, EMI controlled a vast music empire, with divisions in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. While there, Menon assisted producer George Martin, who later became the Beatles’ main collaborator.

In 1957, Menon joined the Gramophone Co. of India, a subsidiary of EMI; he became managing director in 1965 and president in 1969. Later, in 1969, he was appointed managing director of EMI International.

Capitol, the Los Angeles label that had been the home of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, was reeling from business mistakes and declining sales, and EMI appointed Menon as its president and CEO. It drastically shortened Capitol’s roster of artists, tightened budgets, and pushed for more aggressive promotion of the label’s artists.

In 1972, Menon learned that Capitol was at risk of losing Pink Floyd’s next album, which he blamed on the company for poor sales of their previous albums in the United States. Menon flew to the south of France, where Pink Floyd was performing, and after an all-night negotiation session, they reached an agreement. Menon commemorated the terms on a cocktail napkin and brought it to the Capitol legal department in Los Angeles, said Rupert Perry, a longtime EMI and Capitol executive.

“The Dark Side of the Moon,” released by Capitol with a huge promotional campaign, was one of the biggest box office hits in music history; stayed on the Billboard album chart for 741 consecutive weeks and has sold more than 15 million copies in the United States alone.

Led by Menon, Capitol continued to be successful in the 1970s with Bob Seger, Helen Reddy, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt, Grand Funk Railroad, and others.

In 1978, EMI placed its music divisions under a unified management as EMI Music Worldwide and named Menon president and CEO. He remained in that position until he retired from the music industry in 1990. From 2005 to 2016, he was a member of the board of directors of NDTV, a news television channel in India. In 2011, a troubled EMI was sold to Sony, which bought its music publishing business, and Universal Music.

In some ways, Menon was an outsider on the Southern California music scene.

“He was a very unusual and unlikely type of person who would be sent here under those circumstances to assume overall executive command of Capitol,” Menon said in “History of the Music Biz: The Mike Sigman Interviews,” a published 2016 collection. for the hits of the industry magazine.

Menon’s wife recalled in a telephone interview that when they married in 1972, Menon told her, “There are only two Indians in Los Angeles: Ravi Shankar and me.” He told stories of the two men, old friends from India, vainly roaming the exclusive west side of the city in search of good Indian food.

In addition to his wife, Menon is survived by two sons, Siddhartha and Vishnu, and a sister, Vasantha Menon.

Although Menon was known primarily as the manager of the business side of the labels he ran, he 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 Menon’s efforts to promote the band’s album, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”

“He decided he was going to make this work and have the American company sell this record,” Mason said. “And he did.”

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