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Closer Examination of Post-Punk: Profile on Keith Levene

April 14, 2011

I always felt that of all the musicians from the 1970’s post-punk scene, Keith Levene’s history was always the most interesting. His guitar work for the early Public Image Ltd. work was so memorable: just listen to those repetitious guitar lines from the Metal Box record or listen to the opening dirge `Theme`from the first record.  And even though he hardly played any guitar on it, his influence on the “overall sound” Flowers of Romance LP is undeniable too (Although, the real notable musician on that record would be the great Martin Atkins on drums, but I digress).

For example, when you hear the song Public Image now, you can totally tell how influential Levene’s tone was to countless guitarists, especially the Edge of U2 fame.  Hell, that song almost sounds like the blueprint for the majority of U2 songs in the early 80’s. (It should be stated that Edge once said that the song Public Image was one of his favs from the post-punk period).  Of course, nowadays, with the revival of plenty of dance-punk bands in the 2000’s, Keith Levene’s influence is quite easy to hear.

Another interesting note is that this is a guy who was a self-described progressive rock fan, and was an early roadie for the progressive rock band Yes.  He even states how much he worshipped Steve Howe as a teen.  To be fair though, he’s not the only guitarist from the punk scene who credits Steve Howe as an influence (see Pat Smear).

For proof of the Yes worship, compare and contrast the classic PiL song Poptones with Yours is No Disgrace.  The same cyclical guitar line throughout the 7 minute song, Poptones, bears an eerily similar sound to the intro of the aforementioned Yes song.

-Poptones (from Metal Box, 1979)

-Yours Is No Disgrace (from The Yes Album, 1971)

For more evidence of an anomaly in the punk scene, although Keith was originally a guitarist for Clash and even got songwriting credit for the first album, he eventually left because he felt they were lame.  Essentially, he thought Joe Strummer was terrible frontman and that Mick was a bad guitarist.   Although, he did appreciate the Sex Pistols.

Keith Levene:  You wanna know the truth? The truth is I hated their sound. Even though I wrote some of their first album, I can’t listen to it. That’s the truth. There is the printed version of what happened, and then there is the real version of what happened. It didn’t bother me when I left The Clash, not at all. I mean, how could I be in a band which played songs like ‘White Riot’! Fuck off! What did we have to riot about? Then there were the fucking stupid lyrics like “No Elvis, no Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” Fuck off! I didn’t want anything to do with it. Then there was some bullshit like Mick Jones told me he predicted the death of Elvis. Bullshit.

Many punk purists would probably cringe to also note that while he dismisses the first Clash album as “lame,” he would later claim to be a fan of alot of alternative rock artists, such as Queens of the Stone Age and perhaps, more surprisingly, Stone Temple Pilots(!!!).  Here’s even a video of him playing the bass line to Big Bang Baby (with poor quality, admittedly).

-Bass cover of Stone Temple Pilots`Big Bang Baby

On the other hand, getting more into the history of post-punk, maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to note Levene’s musical interests.  After all, it’s a matter of public record that Levene’s old band partner, John Lydon loved progressive rock bands, including Van Der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind, Genesis, and even Pink Floyd.  Although Lydon is infamous for wearing the “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt before meeting up with the Sex Pistols, he would later claim that this hijinx was misinterpreted and that he was a avowed fan of the Syd Barrett years.

Regardless, Keith is definitely one of my favourite guitarists from the all-encompassing post-punk genre.  I wonder what would have happened to PiL if he didn’t end up in bad terms with Lydon after the Flowers of Romance record.   Anyways, to conclude, here are some more recent songs he has done in the last several years.

-Pigface – Closer to Heaven (from Easy Listening…, 2003)

-Killer in the Crowd (from Killer in the Crowd EP, 2004)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 4:04 pm

    Nice post. BTW, Keith has said that some time after the release of Metal Box it occurred to him that Poptones was quite similar to the riff in Starship Trooper. See

  2. PostPunkFan permalink
    August 13, 2011 1:41 pm

    He’s a living legend and one of my favorite people.

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