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Keith was asked if he would compile a list of his top ten albums of all time. A difficult task for anyone, but with much thought he came up with this surprising list comprised of not ten but twelve albums! We chatted about his choices via skype, all the way from a sun-drenched Florida, and it goes something like this.... 

  1. Beach Boys ‘Smile’
  2. Spirit ‘12 dreams of Dr Sardonicus’ 
  3. Pink Floyd ‘Wish you were here’
  4. Billy Cobham ‘Crosswinds’
  5. David Bowie ‘Low’
  6. Paul Simon ‘Surprise’
  7. Omar and the String Poppers ‘Take off the rhythm’
  8. The Carpenters ‘Carpenters’
  9. Free ‘Heartbreaker’
  10. The Beatles ‘Revolver’
  11. Hall and Oates ‘H2O’
  12. Spirit of U.K.  ‘Spirit of U.K.’

I challenged Keith about his lack of punk albums in his selection and said I thought his choices might surprise some people, he told me …Why?I hate punk rock. I just think it’s the biggest excuse for being useless on this planet. I was never a punk so there ya go! I can’t even think of a punk band I don’t like let alone like – I know one The Clash I don’t like them. That’s why I left the band! Conversely, there’s the seminal band, song, album and upcoming festival known as ‘Spirit of U.K.’  Some would say ‘Spirit of U.K.’ is the parity to ‘Flowers of Romance’ which, Mel, you will recall was also a band, song, and album concept.  Well, I don’t!  In fact:  I call it the antithesis of punk rock!  In other words:  The last word!” 

  1. Beach Boys - ‘Smile’ 

Why did Keith choose the Beach Boys on the number one slot?  “ Two words:  First word:  Brian.  Second word: Wilson!  Brian Wilson! Everything the Beach Boys did was amazing. From ‘Surfin Safari’ through Help Me Rhonda through California Girls through Pet Sounds to his unrivalled masterpiece, Smile. Anyone who thinks the Beach Boys were some silly throwaway 1960s surf band needs to look into the real story, as the music speaks for itself.  I was probably about 9 when I first heard a Beach Boys tune along with my dad, who also liked them.  However, he felt they were losing the plot as the music evolved and Smiley Smile emerged.  Smile was not released until 2011 because the record company rejected it.  Can you imagine?  So Smiley Smile was the forced compromise stand-in, and a damned good album on its own.  Little did I know, I thought that was far out enough.  Smile was finally released, Brian’s way, in 2011.  Although I’d heard bits and pieces of bootleg cuts of Smile, I finally had the opportunity to hear Smile in its entirety over the course of the past year.  It blew me away. It stills does.  It’s endlessly listenable. As for Brian, he has the most unique voice on this planet. Brian’s accomplishments rivals Gershwin and Mozart.  Forget about Metal Box in Dub or anything in Dub. This guy was doing dub before you even had the word. Take for example, the way they break down the tunes in Good Vibrations or Heroes and Villians, then its just the vocals. ‘Heroes & Villains’ is an opera. Brian was just 23 years old when he made Smile in the mid 1960s.  He had a pioneering and unique style. Today’s digital techniques haven’t managed to rival what he pulled off on tape. Utterly amazing! 

  1. Spirit - ‘12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’   

Keith was about twelve years old when this record was first released. He told me When I was introduced to music as a pre-teenager, this was one of the albums everyone loved.  It was the backing track of many weekends. I played that record the other days.  It’s got 12 tracks fantastic tracks; you really want to check it out.  

  1. Pink Floyd - ‘Wish you were here’ 

Keith told me this was the soundtrack to everybody’s life around 1971  I used to hang out in the Southgate technical college common room.  That was the place to be, and that’s where I started to learn to play guitar. Everyone in the world was listening to Dark Side Of The Moon, this particular year. I had ‘Schools Out’, I listened to David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Yes, and other people on the list. Keith remarked how he has been playing along to this album only two days previously “I was just saying I can’t believe how much this album is a part of my life..I really love it. 

  1. Billy Cobham - ‘Crosswinds’ 

Billy Cobham, was a new name to me but Keith remarked “You’ve never heard of Billy Cobham, well you know the band Massive Attack? There’s a tune directly taken from Billy Cobham. He is one of those athlete musicians, an amazing drummer. This album came out in 1971, the one before was called ‘Spectrum’ the people playing on this album were Jan Hammer, you’ve probably heard of him ‘cos of Miami Vice, but the thing is this is where it all came from - the Brekka Brothers are on brass. Cobham’s debut album, Spectrum, should have been on this list.  But somehow, Crosswinds got in just under the wire. 

  1. David Bowie - ‘Low’ 

Keith selected David Bowie next, one of my favourite artists, why did he pick ‘Low’? “I picked Low because it encompasses that ‘Man Who fell To Earth’ era. It’s one of those interesting albums he did.  Much as its called ‘Low’ and he was supposed to be very low in inspiration, it’s remains one of the most prolific albums Bowie’s ever produced. What does Keith think of Bowies new single? I downloaded the single and it was really awful. And remains that way. 

  1. Paul Simon - ‘Surprise’

 Pardon the pun but Keith selecting Paul Simon was certainly a surprise to me?Oh don’t get me started; you want to check this album out, Mel! Uncle Paul has always been with us – Simon & Garfunkel who I am very attached to…’Sounds Of Silence…’America’…. whatever! I am sure you remember Paul Simon from your youth.   So in 2008 he comes out with ‘Surprise.’  Do you want a gift that keeps on on giving, start playing Surprise! I could go through it track by track but I’m not going to!” 

  1. Omar and the String Poppers - ‘Take off the rhythm’

 What is it about this album, Keith? When I first heard this album about a year ago, I thought ‘this is the stuff…this is the be-bop-a-loo-la stuff!

  1. The Carpenters_ ‘Carpenters’

This album came out in the 1970’s when Keith was playing on pinball machines in his local café. The jukebox was right next to the pinball machine and Free would be playing and so would Buddy Holly, Deep Purple, John Lennon, Davie Bowie, Badfinger, Thunder Clap Newman.  But—the Carpenters ruled. “So there I was…12-13 years old, bunking off school, headed up the Mayfair Café on Southgate High Street in London, thinking about playing guitar. I would open the brown glass doors.  Walk inside.  Awful mica red and yellow furniture.  And there would be this really soothing voice coming from the juke box.  It was Karen Carpenter. On top of being an amazing singer, she is also the best female drummer ever.  She comes from the school of Buddy Rich. 

  1. Free - ‘Heartbreaker’

Choosing one best Free album was really difficult for Keith.  But when it came to choosing a band, there was no doubt Free had to be in his top ten. “Maybe I should have chosen Free’s greatest hits or best of? They were just the most amazing rock band, they had that English UK thing going on. I think they came out in 1969 but I was aware of them in 1971 before ‘Alright Now’. I was introduced to Free in youth clubs and they were playing reggae, Thunderclap Newman and Free. Keith explained that when he was twelve, due to the older crowd he hung out with, for him it was almost like being eighteen in terms of what he was hearing “Free came on the scene and they were so simple. Paul Kossoff was only the best Les Paul player on the scene, the most unique guitar player you will ever see. Paul Rodgers on vocals…wicked singer.  He was the quintessential blues rock singer.  Andy Fraser.  What can be said about him?  He invented something completely different on the bass. And on drums, the gov -Simon Kirke.  

  1. The Beatles - ‘Revolver’

Now everyone expected Keith to have at least one Beatles album in his all time favourites. After all, Keith famously wore a series of “Beatles” shirts during the Metal Box in Dub shows in tribute to “the Boys 50thAnniversary year” as he puts it!  I asked him did he have a favourite track on this album. “I haven’t got a favourite Beatles track, there are too many of them. It was very difficult to put The Beach Boys at the top and The Beatles at the bottom but that was just the way it worked out. There are so many albums, if you’d asked me for more I could give you ten more, the thing is this the album that makes the list right now.

11. Hall and Oates. – ‘H2O’

Another unusual choice I should say Keith….They call it blue-eyed soul, the sound of Philadelphia.  A very unique sound. There would be no sound of Philadelphia without these two guys.  If you look at Daryl Hall’s vocal style…look at the band in Young Americans – the point being there would be no Young Americans without Daryl Hall and John Oates.”

12.  Spirit of UK. 

I asked Keith about this, but he was very reluctant to say more. He was at a loss for words. Stay tuned…....So what about what about Keith’s new work, he has a new multi-media release, which is called ‘Search4AbsoluteZero.’ It can be purchased for a limited time only on his web site…. “now is the time to release it, there are loads of new material coming out. What other projects does Keith have coming up? “2051 is a project I’ve been working on since 2005. I see an audio release coming out in 2013 followed by a multi-media release or possibly even a movie. I’m also working on Spirit of U.K."

We chat about social networking sites, in particular Twitter where Keith is beginning to get quite a following going…”What I like about the people on Twitter, its not a kind of swap, follow thing, its people that are interested in me, or PIL and what I have got to offer now, its not like “oh retweet this and I will follow” type of thing. I feel like it’s a big backstage area for me and I really like it. It’s great interacting with people from all over the world, in real time.  We discuss some of the pitfalls of the internet, the dark side but also some of its greatness “It’s the greatest experiment in anarchy ever, and no one is ever gonna control the internet it’s a great reflection of the planet, there is a lot of shit that you can get involved in, but there is lots of good stuff you can get involved in. I just don’t know how we lived without it.”

Everyone seems to be writing or has written an autobiography within the music business, has Keith ever thought of writing his autobiography?... “No.” Keith questions what might be his motives for writing a book about his life…“Well, I’m not thinking about it, so it doesn’t apply do me, but a bunch of wankers I know or may know have done so. I don’t get it.  Mel, I feel like my best creative years are ahead of me. So an autobiography now wouldn’t be right!”

Purchase ‘Search4AbsoluteZero’ for a limited time @ Keith Levene’s website

Melanie Smith in conversation with Keith Levene 31/01/13

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