"The Pagans were as unwrought, impudent and gnarly a buncha rock'n'roll bedlamites as America's ever spewed outta its queasy underbelly."
Of all the classic first wave punk bands, The Pagans are hands down the most under-appreciated. It's unforgivable that they are usually left off of people's all-time great lists while vastly inferior bands get the glory. Never able to get a proper album out during their first incarnation, the red-hot Cleveland foursome nonetheless amassed enough killer material between 1977 and '79 to allow for the legendary posthumous compilation Buried Alive. Even more definitive, the Crypt Records issue Shit Street compiles the entirety of the original Pagans' studio cuts with a 13-song live set from August of '79. If your list of top-tier class of '77 bands does not include The Pagans, you ought to give Shit Street a listen and get your pen and paper ready. You will need to do some revising.
Unlike many of their contemporaries who formed in the wake of Sex Pistols hysteria and more or less copied the formula, The Pagans were making punk rock music before anyone knew what to call it. The Hudson brothers had been playing in bands together since 1974, years before "Anarchy in the UK" was even conceived. Perhaps they were influenced by the true first punk song, Iggy and The Stooges' "I Got a Right". More likely they were influenced by Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1970s - a crumbling blue collar city on the verge of bankruptcy, beset by burning rivers, mob wars, and perennially losing sports teams. Most likely they were influenced by extremely large quantities of drugs and alcohol. Whatever the case, the resulting music was wild and ferocious and straight up on fire. As snotty as their fellow Clevelanders the Dead Boys, no less unsavory than those rotten Pistols, as sonically destructive as the Stooges, and more lunkheaded than the Ramones and Dictators combined, The Pagans were the archetypical first wave punk band. And although their influence on modern-day sub-genres such as "punk rock n' roll", "garage punk", and "snot-punk" is undeniable, there has never really been another band that sounded quite like The Pagans. Only the American Midwest could have given birth to such a violent force of sonic nature. The Pagans were the best band to ever emerge from Cleveland, and that's saying something!
Shit Street has all the songs you know (or ought to know!): both sides of the "Street Where Nobody Lives"/ "What's This Shit Called Love" 45 from '78 (one of the five greatest punk singles EVER!), the gloriously awfully-recorded 1977 classic "Six and Change", the blistering, demented "Eyes of Satan", the Denny Carlton penned shaker "Boy Can I Dance Good", the Cleveland manifestos "Dead End America" and "I Juvenile", and the tasteless proto speed punk of "She's a Cadaver" (surely the Angry Samoans were fans!). And although a handful of the studio tracks were either too hastily recorded or simply not as inspired, the best stuff here absolutely kills. From the very opening notes of "What's This Shit Called Love", you know you're hearing something extraordinary - Tim Allee's thick, stabbing bass lines and Brian Hudson's abusive drumming laying the ground for Mike Metoff's guitars, which growl like alien destruction machines. And then in comes Mike Hudson with his powerful, wailing vocals, and forget about it! Try to name some punk singers better than a young Mike Hudson. Come on, try! You won't get very far.
The live cuts capture The Pagans in their natural habitat, the fabled dive Pirate's Cove, and give you a tiny taste of what it would have been like to have caught these guys in their prime, when they gigged relentlessly, drank heavily, fought internally, trashed hotel rooms, and delivered the goods on-stage to the delight or horror of whomever happened to show up that night, their savage & frenzied brand of rock n' roll arriving at least a decade too soon for any kind of recognition from the "respectable" world. And once Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero join the fellas on stage for bang-up renditions of "It's All Over Now" and "Search and Destroy", you're gonna wish so badly that you had been there! The Pagans were soon to break up, and they'd come back to life a few years later with a new lineup and turn out the not-unworthy Pink Album. But come on, man. There's nothing like early Pagans. Your classic punk collection is not complete - or even truly started - without a copy of Shit Street.
An earlier draft of this piece appears on the blog Dirty Sheets.