The Man Who Showed Pink Floyd the Bright Side
Bhaskar Menon takes us through his experience of 35 years as one of the world’s leading music industry executives, in a Rolling Stone exclusiveFeatures April 20, 2009
In the Sixties, around the time that Pandit Ravi Shankar was popularising Indian music internationally, another Indian was making waves on the industry side of things, famously opening up the American music market for British bands like Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Queen and the Rolling Stones. Bhaskar Menon, a Doon School and an Oxford graduate started out life working for EMI in London, before moving back to India as the Chairman and Managing Director of the company’s Indian subsidiary in 1964. Despite being stationed in the Indian wilderness, Menon was a quick learner and by the end of the decade had risen to become the president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based EMI subsidiary Capitol Records, the marquee record label that had ushered the Beatles era in the world’s biggest music market, and had on its roster legendary bands like the Band, the Beach Boys, Grand Funk Railroad and the Steve Miller Band. Menon first came as head of Capitol in December 1971, with the release of the Concert for Bangladesh album, the live recording of the legendary concert that featured the likes of George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and Bob Dylan. The album was launched within five months of the concert, which was acknowledged to be a legal feat considering the large number of artists involved and the different record labels they were contracted to.
Even bigger name and fame awaited him in 1973, when he took the bold decision to heavily promote and market Pink Floyd’s revolutionary album The Dark Side of the Moon in America. The album went on to become a worldwide phenomenon, selling more than 40 million copies and staying on the Billboard 200 charts for over 14 years. Drummer Nick Mason acknowledged Menon’s contribution to Pink Floyd’s success in the 2003 documentary, The Making of the Dark Side of the Moon: “The story in America was a disaster, in that we really hadn’t sold records… And so they brought in a man called Bhaskar Menon who was absolutely terrific. He decided he was going to make this work, and make the American company sell [Dark Side]. And he did.”
Capitol under Menon went on to sign the likes of Sheena Easton, Blondie, David Bowie, Rosanne Cash, Natalie Cole, Sammy Hagar, Heart, Diana Ross, Bob Seger and George Thorogood in the Seventies. In 1978, he engineered the worldwide merger of all EMI operations to create the global music giant EMI Music Worldwide, of which he became the chairman and CEO. Menon was by then the most powerful man in the music business prompting the British music bible New Musical Express to term him “The Man Who Runs Rock & Roll.” EMI’s worldwide muscle meant that its expanding stable of artists now included Richard Marx, Duran Duran, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys, Queen, Roxette, Spandau Ballet, and others. His influence extended into the several new sub-genres of rock & roll that were gaining popularity in the Eighties. He signed on punk and hard rock groups such as Butthole Surfers, Concrete Blonde, Billy Idol, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers; heavy metal bands like Poison, Megadeth and Iron Maiden; thrash metal bands like Exodus and Rigor Mortis, and pioneering rap groups like the Beastie Boys and Mantronix.
Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, spoke for most bands in his 2008 autobiography, Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, when he said, “We decided to go with EMI because we knew they had a global network and could launch bands across America. The company was headed by the legendary music industry figure, Bhaskar Menon, who’d presided over EMI during the rise of the Beatles.”
Of course Bhaskar’s power had its down. There were many who hated him for the fact that the music companies were now more powerful and richer than the musicians themselves. As George Harrison noted in a 1987 interview with Creem magazine: “It’s disgusting, it’s immoral – and if that’s how [music companies] treat people they’re supposed to be in business with, that must be how they treat everybody. It’s immoral, that’s all there is to it, and ultimately they’ll all get it. I don’t mean from us, now, but somewhere down the line, in this life or the next life… And half of those people are going to reincarnate getting one cent out of every CD they sell and sell more records than everybody and not receive any of the money. Be treated like lice. If you put this in the interview, you can say I’m smiling about it, I’m not letting it depress me. But all this stuff that you read in the papers about Nike and Capitol, that’s what’s been going on for years. They’ve all taken advantage of it because after the Beatles split up everybody was sort of not talking to each other, so they all came in, grabbing and plundering as much as they could. But now this is going to be pursued to the end, and even if we all die in the process, our children and our children’s children will be after Bhaskar Menon and Capitol until he realises he’s just being a dong.”
Menon retired from EMI and the music business in 1990. And in 1995 he set up his own company International Media Investments Incorporated. Based out of Beverly Hills, the company invests in media around the world including NDTV in India. He is on the board of NDTV and travels to the country quite often.