Multiple Covers of Unreleased Songs by Major Acts on the Same Album, From the Mid-’60s to the Early ’70s

Ever since rock started top songwriters, whether soloists or in bands, have had some of their compositions covered by other artists without releasing their own versions. Sometimes the same guy or guys have covered more than one such surplus tune, as Billy J. Kramer, the Fourmost, and Peter & Gordon did with Lennon-McCartney songs the Beatles didn’t release while they were active. But it’s rare that an artist covers half a dozen such extras at once, none of which had been released by anyone.

The 1970 self-titled album by Yellow Hand might be the most extreme example of an act giving so much of a rock LP over to such items between the mid-‘60s and early 1970s. The group covered no less than half a dozen Buffalo Springfield outtakes that had never been issued by the Springfield or anyone else. Among them were two Neil Young songs (“Down to the Wire” and “Sell Out”) and four Stephen Stills compositions (“Come On,” “Hello I’ve Returned,” “Neighbor Don’t You Worry,” and “We’ll See”). These weren’t even accompanied by other songs by the same writers that had been released.

Although a Buffalo Springfield version of “Down to the Wire” came out on Young’s 1977 triple-LP Decade retrospective, Springfield versions of the other five didn’t come out until the twenty-first century (though most of them circulated on bootlegs). Basically, Yellow Hand got access to the outtakes because Buffalo Springfield’s original manager/producers, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, had the publishing on the songs and wanted to make a little money off of them.

I told the whole story of Yellow Hand—based on recent interviews with the group’s guitarist, Pat Flynn, and their singer, Jerry Tawney—in a lengthy (nine-page) feature in the spring 2021 (#56) issue of Ugly Things magazine. Then a teenage guitarist, Flynn was actually given a literal shoebox of cassettes of Buffalo Springfield demos to learn the songs, the band Yellow Hand subsequently forming and recording their LP for Capitol.

Are there any other examples of, as my unwieldy headline for this post reads, “Multiple Covers of Unreleased Songs by Major Acts on the Same Album, From the Mid-’60s to the Early ’70s?” None that are as extreme, but here are a half dozen albums that made the most of someone else’s vaults:

1. Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint, Lo and BeholdMcGuinness Flint, featuring ex-Manfred Mann bassist/guitarist Tom McGuinness and ex-Bluesbreakers drummer Hughie Flint, had a couple big UK hits in the early ‘70s without making much headway in the US. Teaming up with Dennis Coulson and Dixie Dean, their 1972 album Lo and Behold was devoted entirely to interpretations of then-obscure Bob Dylan compositions. None of the ten songs had appeared on official Dylan records, though his versions have subsequently appeared on archival releases.

At a glance that seems to outdo Yellow Hand, but not all of the ten tunes were previously unissued by anyone. The Byrds, for instance, put “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” on their second album, and Jim & Jean put out their version soon afterward. Happy Traum had done “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” back in 1963 as “I Will Not Go Under the Ground.” John Walker, Thunderclap Newman, and others had done “Open the Door, Homer.”

One of Dylan’s own versions of “The Death of Emmett Till,” though recorded in the early 1960s, came out on a Folkways compilation in 1972 credited to the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, though it’s difficult to tell whether that LP appeared before Lo and Behold. So points off for mixing in songs that had already been available, if you keep tabs on that sort of thing.

As Tom McGuinness told me in his interview for Ugly Things #49, “I was lucky because I got a lot of the acetates from the time of the Band. Because Albert Grossman came to London with the Basement Tapes and played them to Manfred Mann, the whole group. So I had all these Dylan acetates lying around. Then McGuinness Flint, we were published by Feldman’s, who were Dylan’s publishers in the UK at that point. A guy up there gave me like fifty cassettes of Dylan demos. So I just had this idea of doing some of the little known Dylan songs that were on these cassettes. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my life.”

2. Hamilton Camp, Paths of VictoryPlaying the Dylan card much earlier than Coulson etc., Camp’s Paths of Victory, issued around late 1964, had seven songs by the man. No less than six of them had yet to appear on Dylan’s own albums, though “Girl from the North Country” had been on Dylan’s second LP, and Bob had done “Only a Hobo” under his Blind Boy Grunt alias for the 1963 compilation Broadside Ballads Vol. 1. Again, Dylan’s own versions of the other five of his compositions here have all come out on archival releases.

Of those other five, “Walkin’ Down the Line” had been on Jackie DeShannon’s self-titled 1963 album, and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” on a 1963 LP by Ian & Sylvia. Release dates have been variably reported for early-to-mid-‘60s folk LPs, but Camp seems to have beaten Odetta to the punch with “Long Time Gone” and “Paths of Victory,” which appeared on Odetta Sings Dylan, probably issued in early 1965. That left just one of what we might call an “exclusive,” as “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine” doesn’t seem to have been covered by anyone else. 

Camp was an interesting figure who already had a solid reputation in the folk world for his recordings (under the name Bob Camp) as a duo with a bigger name from the early folk revival, Bob Gibson. He also wrote “Pride of Man,” his original version highlighting this LP, a few years before Quicksilver Messenger Service did a great rock cover. But this is a folk album, not a rock one. And while he deserves points for scouring for half a dozen of Dylan’s more obscure tunes at a point before Bob was quite as iconic as he’d be in a year or so, not all of them had been previously unissued by anyone.

As for how Paths of Victory got so Dylan-heavy, Camp told me in an interview nearly twenty years ago, “Dylan was hot, so [Elektra Records chief] Jac [Holzman] thought it was very smart to put more Dylan tunes on there, much to my regret. I originally had done a kind of very eclectic collection. I don’t think any tunes [that didn’t make the final LP] were original, but there were different interpretations of a lot of kinds [of] folk songs, [like] ‘Railroad Bill.’ I liked the album that way.

“But he didn’t like that. He said he wanted more Dylan tunes. So they sent me a tape out of Dylan’s, it was reel-to-reel. I learned three or four tunes, and slapped them on, much to my regret. Because I really got hit for it, in especially the Minnesota folk scene. A magazine called The Little Sandy Review that came out of Minneapolis — it was all Dylan cronies — they just hated it!”

3. Nico, Chelsea GirlAn underrated baroque-folk production, Nico’s first album, released around the beginning of fall 1967, showcased obscure or wholly unreleased songs by a wealth of fine songwriters. Among them were Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and no less than five tracks—half the LP—of compositions by fellow Velvet Undergrounders Lou Reed and/or John Cale (with Sterling Morrison getting a co-credit on one and Nico herself on another).

All of these were fine and generally folkier than most of The Velvet Underground & Nico, on which Nico had of course sung a few classics. A few were really fine, namely the epic “Chelsea Girls” and the haunting “It Was a Pleasure Then,” which is a Velvet Underground recording in all but name, as Nico’s backed by Reed and Cale. None had been previously released by anyone, though a 1965 VU demo of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” would appear on a 1995 box set. 

But this is in a way more a Velvet Underground spin-off album than a record by an artist who digs up a batch of otherwise unrecorded songs by an unrelated major act. Nico had sung with the Velvet Underground, albeit only on a few tracks; Reed, Cale, and Morrison all played on the Chelsea Girl sessions, though it can’t be pinpointed what they did on each cut. This doesn’t take anything away from the LP’s considerable status. But it isn’t quite as, to use the word again, “extreme” as Yellow Hand’s Buffalo Springfield homage.

4. The Pretty Things, Philippe DeBargeAny excuse to put the Pretty Things in as many places in Ugly Things as possible, right? But seriously, this 1969 album was seriously teeming with previously unheard Pretties originals. True, three of them (“Alexander,” “Eagle’s Son,” and “It’ll Never Be Me”) had been done by the band without credit on the Even More Electric Banana album, and one (“Send You With Loving”) for a May 1969 BBC session. But not many people knew about that then, and frankly not many do now, especially if you don’t count Ugly Things readers. Otherwise this is pretty fair psychedelic pop that got an even smaller audience than Even More Electric Banana, since it didn’t get released back then.

And what’s it doing here, if it’s a Pretty Things album with Pretty Things songs? The story’s been told by Ugly Things editor/publisher Mike Stax in his magazine and the liner notes to UT’s CD of the recordings, but basically this was a Pretty Things album with a singer who wasn’t in the band. French fan Philippe DeBarge took the lead vocals, though usual Pretties vocalist Phil May co-wrote all of the songs. 

May was diffident about the project when I interviewed him in 1999. “Wally [Waller] and I just wrote a bunch of songs for this French millionaire,” he told me. “No kind of falseness about, ‘He was a musician.’ He just wanted to make a record with the Pretty Things, and he was prepared to pay.”

Added May in Mike Stax’s liner notes for the Philippe DeBarge CD, “I don’t think any of us had great expectations, but we didn’t approach it in that way. We approached it like it was another record to make, and we were getting stuff out of it for ourselves, apart from the finances. It was a good stepping stone between S.F. Sorrow and Parachute.”

In the same notes, Waller also acknowledged the sessions had some value. “For me it was a chance to be the boss in the studio for the first time. I had always been really involved with the production process on all our albums. And I just loved to have the chance to write a few songs and see them through to the end. I think the project put us in a much better shape to tackle something like Parachute.”

As for DeBarge, speculated Wally, “Quite what he was going to do with it I don’t know. I don’t think there would have been any interest from the British music industry, and being in English it wasn’t really suitable for the French market. I think it was a grand indulgence on Philippe’s part. To be honest I was not surprised that nothing became of it.”

This is certainly a worthy adjunct to the Pretty Things discography, and as dedicated to otherwise unavailable songs by a major artist as anything here. But while it’s not quite a Pretty Things album, it’s a Pretty Things album in all but name, with even the guy (May) who didn’t take his usual position playing a major role as writer and backing singer. So it can’t quite be considered a record with “covers” of someone else’s songs, as interesting as it is.

5. The Everly Brothers, Two Yanks in EnglandRecorded in 1966, this decent LP looked a little like a Hollies tribute at a glance. Eight of the twelve songs were written by the Hollies, credited to the “L. Ransford” pseudonym for Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash. The Hollies also played on the sessions, and none of the songs the Everlys covered were well known.

While you had to be (and still have to be) a pretty big Hollies fan to know it, five of these eight songs had already been released on the group’s LPs and B-sides. Three of them would come out on Hollies releases over the next couple years, though you had to be a damned dedicated follower to know that “Like Every Time Before” surfaced on a 1968 B-side in Germany and Sweden.

So – good though not great concept, good though not great results, yet not teeming with previously unheard numbers by their benefactors. The last album on this list has even less such material, though it could have had more.

6. The Rose Garden, The Rose GardenLike Yellow Hand, the Rose Garden had just one self-titled LP, though they’re far better known as they had a #17 hit at the end of 1967 with “Next Plane to London.” Even people familiar with the single usually didn’t hear their album, which meant that few realized ex-Byrd Gene Clark wrote a couple songs on the disc that hadn’t appeared anywhere else. The young band had developed a friendship with Clark, who offered them “Till Today” and “Long Time.” Both songs found a place on the LP, which had little original material by the group. 

Two songs isn’t that much, and there are other examples of acts getting first crack at a couple tracks at once, like Silver Metre did with some Elton John-Bernie Taupin efforts on their 1969 self-titled album, and Jim & Jean did with a pair by their friend Phil Ochs on 1966’s Changes, before Ochs put out his own versions. What puts The Rose Garden over the top in this specialist competition is that they actually could have done more Gene Clark exclusives. Clark gave Rose Garden guitarist John Noreen a five-song acetate of songs to choose, but the band took only “Long Time” from that batch. They also recorded an unreleased version of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” and passed on a few other songs by Young and Stephen Stills that were offered to them by Greene and Stone, including “Come On.”

So The Rose Garden could have been half-full of previously unheard Gene Clark songs – but wasn’t. (For that matter, it could have been half-full of previously unheard Clark compositions and half-full of previously unheard Buffalo Springfield leftovers.) If you’re fretting that those other Clark songs on the acetate are lost forever, fear not. The entire acetate (including Clark’s version of “A Long Time”) was issued in 2018 as bonus tracks to the CD reissue of a different eight-song acetate Gene cut in 1967, Sings for You.

Free Hours at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

When I write about places to see and walk, bike, or hike, I try to find ones that aren’t so well known. The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, in contrast, is very well known. Built in 1894, it’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. It’s a major attraction in a park that itself is a huge tourist attraction. So why post about it?

The Japanese Tea Garden, as it looked around the time it opened in 1894.

It’s not so well known that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, entrance is free about 9am and 10am. It’s hard to get into anything free these days, let alone in the Golden Gate Park museum concourse, where it costs $18 to ride the new ferris wheel, $15 for the de Young art museum (special exhibits not included), and more than $30 for the California Academy of Sciences.

The tea garden is $12 ($10 in the winter, $7 for San Francisco residents), and while that’s not wholly unreasonable, plenty of people have less money to spend over the last year or so. That also means some people have more time to take advantage of freebies. Unlike the nearby botanical garden, this free admission is for everyone, not just city residents, no matter what part of the Bay Area or indeed world you might call home. (The botanical garden is free for everyone between 7:30am-9am, but only free to city residents otherwise.)

Of course, a lot fewer tourists from around the world are traveling  anywhere anywhere these days. But if you do live in the Bay Area, that also means you’ll find the tea garden pretty uncrowded, even during free admission hours.  That’s how it was last week when I took advantage of the free hour for the first time, though I’ve been there a few times over the last few decades during regular paid admission hours.

Here are some images, taken during my visit, of what you’ll see in the small but meticulously maintained grounds:

Near the entrance
House and waterfall
Fish in pond
Bonzai tree
Tea house, if you want modest food and drink
Small bridge, a big favorite of kids
Bridge steps

As noted, nearby is the new ferris wheel, though it’s not yet known if this will be a permanent addition to the museum concourse. It was so foggy when I took this at 8:45am that someone said it looked like a photo from the 1890s:

Pre-Official Debut Recordings of Major 1960s Rock Artists

The recent Joni Mitchell box set Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) presents no less than five CDs of previously unreleased material. All of it predates her first album. I’ve written about the box, which is very good, elsewhere. But it not only has fine music. What it contains seems in a way unique among performers of her significance and era. As I’ve written, “No other performer of Mitchell’s stature wrote and performed such a rich and impressive wealth of music before making their vinyl debut.”

That doesn’t mean that Mitchell was the best artist of all time, or even the best at the beginning of a career. This bountiful pre-vinyl output seems as much a product of circumstance as talent. If she’d made her debut in 1964, she would have recorded a pretty good Judy Collins-style album of traditional folk songs that would have been a considerably above-average LP in the style (much like Collins’s first albums were), if dated.

If she’d recorded an album in late 1966, it would have been a pretty strong singer-songwriter folk album of original material. And it would have had some standout songs she’d already composed by this point (“The Circle Game,” “Night in the City,” “Urge for Going,” “Eastern Rain”), though not as many strong ones as were in her repertoire by the time of her 1968 debut Song to a Seagull.

Why didn’t she start her official discography earlier, especially considering pretty well known artists like Ian & Sylvia, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Rush, and George Hamilton IV were already covering some of her songs by 1967? There’s no easy pat answer, but it seems to come down to a couple factors. She wanted much more control over her work than most artists do who sign her first contract, extending to being able to draw and design her own album covers. That probably put off some labels who otherwise would have signed her before she got her contract with Reprise.

Also, unlike almost every other folkie of note in the mid-‘60s, she didn’t go electric, not starting to use full-band accompaniment on her albums until the early 1970s, well after she was a star. That might have made her seem outdated or at least commercially unpromising, though her actual compositions, guitar playing, and vocalizing were modern and innovative. And as hard as it might be to believe now, at her outset she might have been considered more of a songwriter than a singer or performing artist, and someone whose value primarily lay in having others cover her songs. The first artists to have hits with Mitchell tunes, after all, were not Joni, but Hamilton IV (who had a country hit with “Urge for Going”) and, of course, Collins with “Both Sides Now.”

There’s your fairly condensed explanation/speculation as to why Mitchell ended up with such a backlog of good material before her first album. Fortunately it was often recorded in live concert tapes, radio and television programs, and home demos, many of which are heard on the Archives Vol. 1 box.

What about, however, the pre-vinyl output of some of her peers? How does that measure up to Mitchell’s? Was there anyone whose pre-official discography work was anything like this?

Here’s a survey, by no means all-encompassing, of the “pre-“ work of a dozen top 1960s acts, weighted toward my personal favorites. No one had as extensive and impressive entries in this department as Mitchell did, but almost all made some noteworthy recordings during those formative times, now often (but not always) commercially available. Some made some early recordings that were great, if not as great as their famous classics. Some made barely any recordings, or barely any notable ones. But as the cliché goes, it was a place to start.

The Beatles. Why not start at the very top, with the greatest musical act ever? There are a fair number of Beatles recordings predating their debut “Love Me Do” single. The most significant by far are their fifteen demos at their unsuccessful audition for Decca Records on January 1, 1962, when Pete Best was still their drummer. There are also a half dozen lo-fi songs they did with Best for the BBC in the first half of 1962; a couple tracks, again with Best, for their June 1962 audition for EMI; and a fiery August 1962 live version of “Some Other Guy” at the Cavern in Liverpool with Ringo Starr. 

Yes, there are various other odds and ends, going back to a 1957 very lo-fi Quarrymen performance; shambling lo-fi 1960 rehearsal tapes; and their sessions backing Tony Sheridan in Hamburg, at which they managed to lay down a couple tracks on their own. Except for those two tracks (“Ain’t She Sweet” and the instrumental “Cry for a Shadow”), those other pre-1962 recordings are too rough and unrefined to merit much listening, other than for their historical value.

Although I like their Decca demos, they’re way less mature, and far less impressive, than what they’d be writing and recording by the “Please Please Me” single in November 1962, and the Please Please Me album in February 1963. For one thing, only three of the songs are Lennon-McCartney originals, and none of them were deemed strong enough for the Beatles to record when they signed with EMI, though all of them were given to other artists (“Like Dreamers Do” to the Applejacks; “Love of the Loved” to Cilla Black; and “Hello Little Girl” to the Fourmost). But also, the group sound much less confident, and their musical skills rather skeletal compared to where they’d be in a year or so. I write much more—almost 10,000 words, in fact—on the Decca sessions in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film, and you can read that section online here.

My basic stance is that although the Beatles were crushed to fail the audition, it might have been the best break they ever got. It gave them considerably more time to write songs considerably better than what they had at the beginning of 1962. It gave them time to replace Best with Starr. It gave Paul McCartney time to find his own vocal style—he often sounds like he’s imitating Elvis Presley at Decca. And maybe most crucially, if they had signed with Decca, they wouldn’t have been produced by George Martin, who was the best possible producer for the Beatles.

The Beatles sound better on their BBC sessions in March and June 1962. In fact, they sound pretty good, and definitely a band that should have been signed, even if the surviving tinny tapes were recorded by putting a player next to a radio speaker. But only one of the songs, “Ask Me Why” (later the B-side of “Please Please Me”), was original. Only on the August 1962 live performance of “Some Other Guy” at the Cavern—raunchy and hard-hitting, despite the thin audio—do you get a pretty full sense of the magic that would overwhelm the world.

That magic isn’t at all present on the Tony Sheridan sessions. “Ain’t She Sweet” is a pretty perfunctory version of a Tin Pan Alley standard, if run through Gene Vincent, and with an identifiably John Lennon vocal. “Cry for a Shadow” is a kind of cool, haunting driving instrumental, but not at all the sort of stuff in which the Beatles would specialize. The two June 1962 tracks from the Decca audition are rather tame takes on “Love Me Do” (with erratic drumming from Best) and “Besame Mucho” (done better by the band at Decca and on the BBC).

So the brief verdict: plenty of promise on this pre-official debut material, but no match for what they were doing even by their second single.

The Rolling Stones. In contrast to the Beatles’ Decca demos, the Rolling Stones’ rough equivalent—five demos recorded at IBC in March 1963, just a couple months before they cut their debut 45—show them virtually fully formed. These covers of Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, and Muddy Waters songs are brash and exciting, and rearranged substantially enough to rise above mere imitations of the originals.

It’s not a universally popular opinion, but I’d say these don’t just qualify the Stones as the best blues band in Britain at the time—not a huge accolade, since there weren’t yet that many. I’d go as far to cite them as the best white blues/R&B band in the world at that point. More controversially, I feel they sound as good as any blues/R&B band in the world at that point, white or otherwise, in the UK or North America.

But there are reasons this batch falls short of being as significant as Joni Mitchell’s box. First, it just isn’t that big—five songs, as good as they are. For the record, there’s a fragment of a recording from around late 1962 (of Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover”) in circulation, as well as some lo-fi home tapes by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ pre-Stones group Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys from around 1961. They’re not substantial enough to merit much serious listening, other than for historical purposes.

Here’s another strong consideration to keep in mind—as good as the demos are, none of them are original songs. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wouldn’t start writing for almost another year, and wouldn’t consistently write great songs for about another two years. By contrast, most of Mitchell’s 1965-1967 tapes are of her own compositions. Even the Beatles had a few early Lennon-McCartney songs in their pre-“Love Me Do” batch. 

Long bootlegged, all five of the Stones’ March 1963 demos were finally officially released on the “super-deluxe box set” edition of the 2012 compilation GRRR! It’s too bad the group didn’t record more around this time (though it’s been reported a sixth track was done at IBC, and also some recordings done for a short film of the band that hasn’t been found). As reprinted in his memoir Life, Keith Richards’s diary entries from early 1963 confirm several other covers were in their repertoire of which no recordings circulate, including “Bo Diddley,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Who Do You Love,” and Bo Diddley’s “Bring it To Jerome.”

Bob Dylan. Backtracking a bit chronologically, there are numerous tapes from 1960 and 1961—mostly in friends’ homes, some live—that predate Dylan’s sessions for his self-titled debut LP in November 1961. They show him to be a rapidly improving singer and musician who was becoming a distinctly earthy, bluesy folk song interpreter by the time he approached his Columbia deal. The big “but” is that at this point he was an interpreter, not a composer. Even on his debut album, he’d only write two songs. And even those (and many of his early compositions) were very derivative of previous folk songs and styles, especially Woody Guthrie’s.

The pre-album recordings have their place as performances of considerably historical importance, and do show seeds of his style and much promise, if some primarily evident in hindsight. But they can’t stand up to either Mitchell’s box or what Dylan was doing by the time of his second album, Freewheelin’.

The Beach Boys. This bends the rules a bit, but before signing to Capitol Records, the Beach Boys released just one single, “Surfin’”/“Luau,” recorded in late 1961 for the small Candix label. Its appearance wasn’t insignificant: although the production wasn’t much more elaborate than a demo, it was a substantial regional hit in the Los Angeles area, and #75 nationally.

Still, during that brief pre-Capitol period, the Beach Boys did quite a bit of recording that might be considered a “pre-“ body of work. A double CD of this material, Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions, came out in 2016, though there are just nine separate songs. There are 63 tracks, but a whole lot of multiple versions/takes.

The Beach Boys hadn’t been together too long (and had barely played at all in public), and sound pretty tentative compared to even their first Capitol single, “Surfin’ Safari”/“409.” Still, the best songs here— “Surfin’” and early, tentative versions of “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl,” both of which of course became big hits in re-recorded Capitol versions—are really, really good. The others are pretty flimsy and forgettable, but certainly their distinctive brand of vocal harmonies are well in evidence, if quite callow at this stage.

As basic as these are compared to what they’d be recording by the time of their second Capitol LP (1963’s Surfin’ USA), it seems insane that no Los Angeles record company was shrewd enough to pick them up after they lost their deal with Candix. Capitol did after a while, of course, but only with the help of much badgering from the Wilson brothers’ father/manager. It’s easy to say in hindsight, of course, when armchair critics don’t have to invest thousands of dollars in a young and unproven band with little stage experience. But it’s obvious that even at this early stage, they didn’t sound like anyone else, and deserved more record company interest and investment.

The Byrds. Although they weren’t together that long before recording their first single in January 1965, the Byrds produced a body of pre-debut tapes more impressive than anyone on this list. Shortly after they formed, around late 1964 and possibly into early 1965, they made a lot of tapes in World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles, where early manager Jim Dickson was able to get them a lot of rehearsal time. Some of them were issued in 1969 on the Preflyte compilation; while these had most of the very best tapes, there were other good ones, and eventually a double CD of material was made available.

To quote from a previous blogpost, as I can’t particularly say it any better here: Even if you know nothing about the Byrds or don’t care much about tracing their pre-“Mr. Tambourine Man” evolution, these are hugely enjoyable primordial early folk-rock efforts, from a time the ex-folkies were just learning how to play together as an electric rock band.

This batch of tracks does include a few early versions of songs from their classic 1965 debut LP Mr. Tambourine Man, but also features some really fine originals they never put on their mid-‘60s albums and singles, mostly (but not all) written by Gene Clark. “You Showed Me” would be a hit for the Turtles in 1969. Like the other previously unheard originals, it shows the band trying to emulate the Beatles, but instead starting to forge a distinctive brand of melodic, harmony-laden folk-rock.

It seems like the Byrds themselves had reservations about making this stuff available, as they were only intended as rehearsals/demos of sorts. But many of the tracks are excellent, and most of the others at least decent. 

For sheer listening pleasure, I’d place this material #1 on this list, even ahead of Mitchell’s (and ahead, if not by much, by the much slimmer slice of work by the Rolling Stones). However, as significant as it is to both the Byrds’ career and the development of folk-rock as a whole, it does only cover a few months. The Mitchell box covers four-to-five years and considerably greater evolution, and of course many more original compositions.

The Yardbirds. Returning to the top British Invasion bands, the Yardbirds did a few demos before their first single in 1964, with Eric Clapton in the band. Live recordings of them at the Crawdaddy Club from December 1963 were also issued, though not until almost two decades later. 

Just a few of the demos have circulated, with the Yardbirds covering John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and Chuck Berry’s “Talkin’ About You,” as well as performing an original in a similar R&B/rock style by lead singer Keith Relf, “Honey in Your Hips.” “Boom Boom” and “Honey in Your Hips” were also issued on rare European singles in the mid-‘60s, considerably later than when they were recorded. The demos are decent early British R&B, but kind of restrained compared to both the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds’ later work. “Honey in Your Hips” is actually a decent Diddley-influenced original, but the Yardbirds would never develop into consistently good prolific songwriters, though they wrote some great stuff.

The live tracks from the Crawdaddy are more lively, but also more basic compared to what they’d record with Clapton in 1964, both live and in the studio. It’s not all that different from their debut album Five Live Yardbirds (recorded at London’s Marquee in March 1964)—versions of “Smokestack Lightning” were performed for both sets of recordings—but not as assured, fiery, and imaginative. It’s definitely not as good as the two 1964 singles they cut with Clapton, and while some seeds of their improvisational rave-ups are heard, their great innovations lay a ways in the future.

The Kinks. Although it’s not so widely known, the Kinks recorded some material before they were the Kinks. Well, at least if the packaging on an obscure EP on the 1960s label is accurate. Issued in 2017, the four-song disc Ravensize Session: The Pre-Kinks Regent Studio Demos has early versions of three Ray Davies originals they’d soon record for Pye as the Kinks: “You Still Want Me” (the A-side of their second single), “”You Do Something to Me” (the B-side of their second single), and “Revenge.” The fourth, “Ooba Dooiba,” would not show up in the Kinks’ subsequent discography. Mickey Willett would have been on drums, Mick Avory not having yet joined.

Because more polished versions of “You Still Want Me” and “You Do Something to Me” were recorded in 1964 for Pye, these aren’t as surprising or revelatory as they might otherwise have been. These Ray Davies compositions, issued on the second of the two flop singles preceding “You Really Got Me,” find him and the Kinks imitating the early Beatles and Merseybeat groups. Rather enjoyably, actually, but not with great distinction, and certainly not in line with the far raunchier style they’d hit on with “You Really Got Me.” 

That R&B-flavored raunchiness is more in evidence on the basic “Revenge,” where you can hear their early trademark power chords starting to emerge. It’s also heard a bit on the beyond-basic “Ooba Dooiba,” which has energy but almost embarrassingly formulaic songwriting and simple lyrics. Like all of the British Invasion groups listed in this post, the Kinks wouldn’t take long to find their forte. But it’s no more than a glimmer here, though this EP is reasonably entertaining in its documentation of their birth pangs.

The Who. There’s not much Who predating their first (and fine) single, “I Can’t Explain,” even if you count the 1964 single they issued as the High Numbers. That single was kind of an embarrassment, as early manager Pete Meaden lifted the tunes of “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit” wholesale from Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” and the Dynamics’ “Misery.” He grafted new lyrics onto them paying rather blunt homages to the mod lifestyle. “I’m the Face” is rather tepid early British R&B/rock; “Zoot Suit”’s actually has a pretty cool minor-keyed melody, but little of the Who’s personality comes through, aside from Roger Daltrey’s fairly deft lead vocals. 

An outtake of Bo Diddley’s “Here ‘Tis” from the sessions for the High Numbers single is fair, but no match for the Yardbirds’ exhilarating, and far more recklessly daring, cover of the same song on Five Live Yardbirds. Demo covers from late 1964 of two songs by Motown’s premier Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting team, “Leaving Here” (also done at the High Numbers session) and “Baby Don’t You Do It,” are respectable but not arresting. (Both surfaced on the expanded CD of Odds and Sods.) Only in “Baby Don’t You Do It”’s unexpected, though brief, feedback break do they suddenly sound like the groundbreaking early Who.

A live recording of the Who at London’s Railway Hotel in 1964—some sources give the date as October 20, 1964—has long been bootlegged. Here too they sound like an average, or slightly above average, R&B/rock band with hints of something that might make them stand out from the pack. But only in Pete Townshend’s dive-bombing, distorted intro to “Pretty Thing” do they sound idiosyncratically different from everyone else. Daltrey’s vocals range from fine to embarrassingly out of character when he affects a low Howlin’ Wolf growl. Keith Moon’s drumming is fairly active, but not nearly as wild as it would be in 1965. There are unpleasantly meandering blues jams around the real songs, which are all covers, with no originals.

Studio instrumentals purporting to be from a Who audition at Abbey Road in 1964 have also been bootlegged. It’s kind of unfathomable why the Who, or any British Invasion band, would have only been playing instrumentals at an audition. These too are kind of formless and undisciplined. 

If you get the impression from this entry that I’m not a Who fan, rest assured that’s not at all the case. They’re one of my favorite groups. But I do believe that—unlike the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Animals, Them, and some of the other greatest heavily R&B-influenced ‘60s bands from the British Isles—they would never have made it as a blues/R&B/soul cover act. The truly original moments on their pre-1965 recordings are when Townshend suddenly uses distortion. The key to quickly lifting them to a front-line British Invasion act was the emergence of Townshend as one of British rock’s best songwriters in 1965, combining their manic energy and avant-garde inclinations with concise power pop and incisive lyrics.

The Velvet Underground. Turning to the US, and the only act on this list that would not experience significant commercial success, the Velvet Underground made some recordings before the spring 1966 sessions that yielded all but one track on their debut LP (though that album wouldn’t be issued until early 1967). No less than 80 minutes of these were issued on the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See, all drawn from July 1965 demos. Actually these were probably at least as much home rehearsal tapes as demos. They weren’t recorded in a professional studio, but in a residence on Ludlow Street in New York, though the sound is clear and good.

Although the Velvets do early versions of a few songs from their first album, these tracks aren’t exactly the VU as they sounded by the time of the debut LP sessions. Drummer Maureen Tucker had yet to join the band, whose drummer at this point was Angus MacLise. More importantly, MacLise isn’t even on these tapes. In fact, there’s no drummer at all. Only Lou Reed, John Cale, and Sterling Morrison play on these recordings, giving the proceedings something of a folky unplugged feel.

So although “Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” are all here, they’re not nearly as powerful or fully formed as they are on The Velvet Underground & Nico. Cale and not Reed sings “Venus in Furs,” which sounds almost like a gothic folk ballad. “I’m Waiting for the Man” is almost a hillbilly stomp. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” also has an ill-suited country-folk feel.

Despite the 80-minute length, there are only six songs on the tape, as there are a number of multiple versions. Among the others, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” would be done by Nico on her 1967 debut album Chelsea Girl, and again has Cale on lead vocals and a pronounced folk feel. “Prominent Men,” never to be recorded in a studio by the Velvets, is the least impressive composition of the batch, as a blatant aping of Bob Dylan’s early protest songs.

The tape is of enormous historical significance, proving that the Velvets were writing great and innovative songs (“Prominent Men” excepted) well before their official debut. Compositionally, the songs are barely different from their later incarnations. The key, and very significant, difference is that the sound of the band lags far behind the songwriting at this point. Going full-band electric, adding Tucker and Nico, and overhauling the arrangements so they were harder rocking and crossed rock with the avant-garde—all of those were necessary to elevate the Velvet Underground to greatness. 

As relatively unimpressive as these earlier versions are in comparison, it really didn’t take all that long to happen. Only nine months separate them from most of the sessions for The Velvet Underground & Nico. There are a few other scraps of lo-fi early 1966 rehearsals that predate the first album, but those too aren’t in the same league as what was laid down for the LP.

The Doors. The Doors were another group whose songwriting developed faster than their musical arrangements, and whose first recordings weren’t done with the lineup that would become famous. It wasn’t too long after Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek decided to form a band that they cut a half dozen demos in September 1965, about a year before they made their classic debut LP. All of them would be re-recorded for their albums, and one of them, “Hello I Love You,” would be a #1 hit. True, “Go Insane,” the weirdest of the lot, only resurfaced as part of “The Celebration of the Lizard.” The others were all good-to-great: “End of the Night,” “My Eyes Have Seen You,” “Moonlight Drive,” and “Summer’s Almost Gone.”

But at this point, guitarist Robby Krieger hadn’t joined, although drummer John Densmore’s there. That absence alone makes a big difference. But also, Manzarek is on piano, rather than the organ that he played much more often on Doors records. Fleshing out the group were a stand-in bass player and, more problematically, Manzarek’s brother Rick on guitar. Guitar barely makes itself felt on the tapes, and what’s there is of no consequence. Another Manzarek brother, Jim, adds some harmonica, again to no notable effect. And Morrison’s vocals aren’t nearly as forceful or charismatic as they’d be within a year.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call the demos “raw and empty,” as James Riordan and Jerry Prochniucky did in their book Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison. But I see their point; certainly they’re far less full and kaleidoscopic than the records they made with producer Paul Rothchild (and, at the end of Morrison’s life, without Rothchild, but with engineer Bruce Botnick as co-producer for L.A. Woman). They really benefited from having another year to work on their sound; to write more good songs, though the songwriting was already on a high level; for Morrison to gain more vocal confidence; and to refine their lineup with Krieger on guitar and Manzarek on, mostly, organ.

Until a few years ago, these were the only Doors recordings in circulation preceding their self-titled debut album. Recently May 1966 live tapes from the London Fog club became available. These have the Krieger lineup, and are a good eight months after the demos. But they’re not that good, in part because five of the seven songs are R&B/rock’n’roll/soul covers. Surprisingly, there’s also the bluesy original “You Make Me Real,” which they wouldn’t record in the studio until their fifth album, 1970’s Morrison Hotel. Only on “Strange Days” does their unique approach come through. 

If the Doors had stuck to being a blues/R&B-oriented band heavy on the covers, they never would have made it. They weren’t nearly as good as the British bands who started with that kind of repertoire, or even as good as the best of the relatively few US bands with a similar orientation. And while I’m a big fan of John Densmore’s drumming, it’s surprisingly substandard on the London Fog tapes. 

If a good tape of the Doors during their legendary 1966 summer residency at the Whisky A Go Go somehow emerges, maybe the value of their pre-debut LP sessions can be reassessed. But like several others on this list, their pre-official work has lots of promise without living up to the standards of their core catalog.

Neil Young. Most of the pre-1966 Young recordings that have circulated are on disc one of his Archives Vol. 1 box. You can also throw in a few mid-’66 demos on the Buffalo Springfield, though a few were done in July, the same month sessions started for the first Buffalo Springfield album. 

The 1963-64 recordings with the Squires (two released on a rare 1963 instrumental single) aren’t of much consequence, as they’re heavily derivative of the Shadows and the early British Invasion. A few October 1965 tracks with Comrie Smith show more of his songwriting voice starting to emerge, especially on the yearning “There Goes My Babe,” though they’re still no great shakes. 

It’s really on his batch of Elektra demos in December 1965 that a recognizable Young surfaces, especially as they include a couple songs he’d put on official releases, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” (with Buffalo Springfield) and “Sugar Mountain.” Part of “The Rent Is Always Due” would be recycled for “I Am a Child” on the Springfield’s third album.

Although the solo guitar accompaniment is bare and Young’s vocals not as confident as they’d be later in the 1960s, the best of the Elektra demos clearly show a fine singer-songwriter, even if the other songs don’t measure up to the ones listed in the previous paragraph. The genius most of us can apply in hindsight makes it seem obvious Elektra, or some label, should have signed this guy up, whether as a solo act or someone that could develop a band or get placed in a group. He didn’t get an Elektra contract, and it’s not even clear how seriously, or if, anyone at the label listened to the demos.

Young wasn’t as nervous for his mid-1966 demos, when he was already part of Buffalo Springfield and just shy of starting to record an album with them. The standouts are the two songs that made their debut LP, “Out of My Mind” (on which fellow Buffalo Springfielders Stephen Stills and Richie Furay sing backup vocals) and “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong.” “I’m Your Kind of Guy” isn’t memorable, but “There Goes My Babe” has a heartrending melody, even if there’s no way Young would have recorded it as was, since it’s sung from a woman’s point of view. That’s because it was reportedly a demo for Sonny & Cher (presumably to have been sung mostly or wholly by Cher), fellow clients of the Springfield’s original managers and producers, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone.

Overall I like Young’s early demos, though the best of them are the songs that were re-recorded for official release, and the later versions are substantially better. But he didn’t record too much before Buffalo Springfield’s first album, and what he did record was uneven, though the signs of his future brilliance are clearly there.

Pink Floyd. Considerably in advance of their early-1967 debut single “Arnold Layne”/“Candy and a Currant Bun,” Pink Floyd recorded a half dozen demos in 1965 when they were still a five-piece with guitarist Bob Klose. These were issued on the extremely limited 2015 EP 1965: Their First Recordings, and then made more widely available as part of the very large and expensive box The Early Years 1965-1972.

Although original leader/lead singer/main songwriter/lead guitarist Syd Barrett wrote four of these songs, only the manic “Lucy Leave” hints at their brilliant, teetering-on-madness early psychedelia. It’s by far the best of the batch, marking a transition from their clumsy R&B origins (as heard here on an average cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee”) to a more sinister freakbeat sound anticipating elements of the brilliant 1967 recordings they made with Barrett. “I’m a King Bee” were in wide circulation before that. The other four originals, three composed by Barrett, are a bit twee and tame in comparison, and far poppier. Roger Waters’s “Walk With Me Sydney” is of note, however, not only as the bassist’s first composition to be recorded, but also for featuring Juliette Gale (Rick Wright’s first wife) sharing lead vocals with Syd.

There are also a few early versions of “Interstellar Overdrive” in circulation that are different from the one on their first LP. The one for the soundtrack of Tonight Let’s All Make Love in London is pretty cool, though unfocused after the first few minutes. Cooler yet is a hyper-jittery pre-record deal unreleased 1966 fifteen-minute version of “Interstellar Overdrive,” recorded for the soundtrack of Anthony Stern’s 1968 avant-garde short film San Francisco. Not so cool is the meandering “Nick’s Boogie,” also done at sessions for Tonight Let’s All Make Love in London.

In sum, pre-“Arnold Layne” Pink Floyd has a few interesting, even exciting cuts—the alternate “Interstellar Overdrive”s and, less compellingly, “Lucy Leave.” As for the rest, there’s not much, it’s not that memorable, and it’s not much like early psychedelic Pink Floyd, though they’re instructive to hear for insight into their roots.

Of course, just sticking to the 1960s, there are many other notable acts who made recordings prior to their official debuts. As I noted, this is a sampling of some of the most notable.

Of all these, only the recordings by the Byrds and the Rolling Stones are really fine and enjoyable, though there are good moments here and there with almost everyone else. And the Rolling Stones did hardly any such recordings, and the ones by the Byrds span, in all likelihood, just a few months. Joni Mitchell’s the clear winner in the obscure category of best and most extensive body of significant work done by an important 1960s artist prior to their first official disc.

Socially Responsible Investment in the Biden Years: What to Expect, and What to Demand

If you have socially responsible investments, there are too many reasons to cheer the incoming Joe Biden administration to fit into one paragraph. Obviously there will be much more commitment to promoting sustainability and alleviating the destructive effects of climate change. Fighting systemic racial injustice will also be a priority.

Yet Biden and Congress will also have their hands full fighting the pandemic and boosting the ailing economy—goals that, of course, are deeply interrelated. How easy or difficult will it be to pass legislation that would not just undo the worst policies of the previous administration, but also enact new progressive ones? Much will depend on who’s in Congress, especially a near-deadlocked Senate, which like the House is barely in Democratic control as Biden takes office.

Climate Change and the New Administration

While SRI addresses many issues, most would agree that climate change tops the list. It’s complex and urgent enough that it needs an entire blog post to address, though we hope to examine others in coming months as the new administration settles into place.

Even before taking office, Biden got the discussion into gear by picking a diverse group of environmentally conscious, highly credentialed men and women for key cabinet positions. These include:

  • Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who’s championed renewable energy, as Secretary of Energy.
  • Deb Haaland, who would be the first Native American cabinet secretary, as Secretary of the Interior.
  • Pete Buttigieg, who attracted plenty of favorable attention as a presidential candidate, as Secretary of the Transportation.

While there are only sixteen cabinet positions, all subject to Senate confirmation, much of the administration’s staff doesn’t have to pass that test. John Kerry’s appointment as special presidential envoy for the climate won’t need to clear that hurdle. Neither will Gina McCarthy, Barack Obama’s EPA administrator, who will head a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.

With near-daily accounts of vicious partisan conflict as policies crawl through the Washington maze, it’s easy to get frustrated, especially with the clock running out on opportunities to stem climate change. Socially responsible investing gives us a chance to make our voices heard outside of the voting booth. It’s not too early to look at how SRI should expand and change our voice for environmental action over the next four years, and hopefully beyond.

Where We Stand Now

With the deluge of headlines over the last four years announcing all sorts of calamitous environmental policies, you might assume it’s been nothing but bad news for building a greener economy. To the surprise of many, that’s not exactly been the case. 

According to the latest report from the United States Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, total US-domiciled assets under management using ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investment strategies increased to $17 trillion in 2020. That number doesn’t mean much without some context:

  • According to Forbes, “The figure represents 33% of all US assets under professional management.”
  • It rose 42% over the past two years, from $12 trillion.
  • It’s an enormous gain from just a decade ago, when about one in eight such assets were under professional management, as opposed to one in three.

Some cautions are in order when you take in these numbers. ESG is seen by some as shorthand for SRI Light, with guidelines that aren’t as strict as those often adopted by the SRI community. The 33% figure applies to assets under professional management, and is far from representing one in every three dollars in the overall economy. It also counts the ESG assets of huge investment companies like Vanguard, Fidelity, and BlackRock whose overall mission isn’t SRI-centered, and in the view of some not even especially ESG-centered.

Some see this bulge in ESG as a symptom of big players exploiting opportunities for their financial gain, rather than a reflection of their core principles. As renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in The New York Times shortly after the election, “The fossil fuel industry has been the worst-performing sector of the American economy for many years now. Its problems are twofold: It faces a sprawling resistance movement, rooted in the undeniable fact that its products are wrecking the planet’s climate system. And in wind and sun, it faces formidable technological competitors who can provide the same service, just cleaner and cheaper.”

Along the same lines, some skeptics feel such companies might be creating ESG-sensitive funds to greenwash their public image. Others point out that many financial operations, not just investment companies with ESG assets, are turning toward green technologies out of necessity after demand for fossil fuels tanked when air and car travel plummeted in the pandemic.

The graphics below give a basic outline of ESG’s growth and priorities:

More Signs to Green Growth 

But whatever the motives of companies getting green-friendlier or ESG-oriented, the economy’s generally turning more toward environmentally sustainable technologies and investments. Impax Asset Management president Joseph Keefe put it this way on the site of Pax World Funds, the first socially responsible mutual fund in the US: 

“The clean energy sector has managed to thrive despite four years of indifference at best, and opposition at worst, from the Trump administration. Technology cost reductions, supportive state-level policy, and strong demand from corporate consumers responding to customer pressure have all helped renewables grow significantly with extremely limited federal support.” As just one example, although solar tariffs were imposed on imported cells and modules in 2018, the Wood Mackenzie global energy consultancy group expects the solar market to grow by 33% in 2020, and 48% in 2021.

Crucially, this sort of progress isn’t only taking root in mutual funds or private enterprises not known for their altruism. Governments and institutions have also continued to direct their resources toward fossil-free territory.

We only had to wait about a month after Biden was elected to see the sharpest such left turn. In early December, comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced New York State would start divesting its $226 billion employee pension fund from oil and gas companies if they didn’t have a plan aligned with the Paris climate accord within four years. In 2018, it had been announced that New York City’s pension fund would seek to divest $5 billion in fossil fuel over five years. But New York State’s divestment would be the biggest yet by a US pension.

Such heartening headlines in no way cancel the worst of the outgoing administration’s environmental atrocities. Even as time ran out on its remaining days in office after the election, it was selling oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; completing rollbacks on more than a hundred environmental rules; continuing 24/7 construction of a border wall, which threatens nearly a hundred endangered species; and not taking measures to increase controls on industrial soot emissions, although polluted air’s been linked to Covid-19 death rates. Still, the trends toward SRI or ESG investments could help the Biden team get off to a running start not just in reversing these policies, but initiating others. What are the possibilities?

Biden’s Plan

First, let’s take a look at what the new administration plans to address. It will be a brief look because there are literally pages and pages of details at That itself is a heartening sign, considering the outgoing administration seemed to have no such plan whatsoever, let alone such a comprehensive one. Here are a half dozen highlights:

  • Ensure the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
  • Make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in clean energy and environmental justice over the next ten years.
  • Use the federal government procurement system, which spends $500 billion every year, to drive toward 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles.
  • Double down on the liquid fuels of the future, which make agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change.
  • Make a historic investment in energy and climate research and innovation, as well as clean and resilient infrastructure and communities.
  • Re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of the administration.

There’s much, much more information on this site, titled “The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice.” These key points alone, however, will both encourage and require massive investment in green technology and environmentally conscious companies. As a New York Times editorial reported, along the way, Biden’s pledged to “eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035.” That itself would drive a lot of investment away from gas and oil.

The goalposts are sure to shift as socioeconomic conditions change, and as political battles are waged on Capitol Hill. But SRI investment, from both professional management and plain old citizens, will be vital to keeping those goals in sight.

The SRI/ERG Community Wish List

If socially responsible investors have more power than they’ve had in four years—and, perhaps, ever if Biden sticks to his plan—how can their influence be felt in Washington?

“There is a growing chorus of policymakers who recognize that climate change is a material risk to investments,” notes Bryan McGannon, Director of Policy and Programs for the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. “We anticipate that climate risk disclosure by public companies will get attention by the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] and Congress in 2021.  We also expect the Department of Labor to act on the rules governing retirement plans to clarify how ESG investments may be considered.”

Let’s start with a cabinet position of particular interest to the SRI community. Under new head Marty Walsh, Boston mayor and former union leader, the Department of Labor will probably abandon a proposal requiring plan fiduciaries to prioritize the finances of beneficiaries over social and public policy objectives.

That doesn’t just pave the way for more transparency and ethical behavior from those who administer a great deal of our country’s wealth. It also leaves far greater openings for the initiation of environmentally and socially progressive shareholder resolutions. It would also increase the likelihood of those resolutions having a true positive impact for everyone, and not just benefiting the beneficiaries.

The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment has proposed the creation of a White House Office of Sustainable Finance and Business to promote “the continued growth of sustainable investment and accelerate the shift from a shareholder-centric company model to a multi-stakeholder model.” The second part likewise translates to companies that would be accountable to the health of society as a whole, and not just the portfolios of its investors.

The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment Wish List

This is just the first of eight major recommendations the forum has proposed for the new administration on its website, at If not quite as mammoth as The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, it’s a lengthy document with dozens of elaborations and sub-recommendations. Here are just some of the other points in its platform likely to be of interest to anyone with a mind toward socially responsible investing, and not just those who make a living at it:

  • Appoint leadership at the Department of Labor (DOL) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with sustainable investment expertise.
  • The SEC should reverse regulatory action limiting shareholder proposals.
  • The DOL should reverse regulatory action limiting the inclusion of ESG factors in retirement plans.
  • Create a new position of sustainable finance liaison at the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • End fossil fuel subsidies.

Some of the forum’s recommendations aren’t specifically linked to SRI/ESG or climate change, such as an urge for a $15/hr. minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave. Those sort of concerns are nonetheless intimately linked with laying the groundwork for more socially responsible investment, which can best thrive if our overall economy and livelihoods are healthy.

The report’s elaborations on the key eight recommendations include some proposals that aren’t mentioned in Biden’s climate plan, and that might be viewed by many as more progressive. These include suggestions to establish a tax on carbon emissions; restore the Clean Water Act; and, in a measure both wordy and worthy, “establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Council on Environmental Quality.”

Many signs, then, point to a more favorable climate for both fighting climate change and expanding socially responsible investment, an essential pillar in that fight. How might individual investors best allocate their resources in that climate, whether by getting their assets as fossil-free as possible or otherwise? That’s something that can be addressed in a future post on this site.

This story first appeared on the website of Effective Assets.