Aug 262011

We will, we will not rock you

A few months ago, I was thrifting for a new/old pair of jeans, and I came across a pair in the right size and the right brand (which is to say: Levi’s first, Lee second, and — maybe, in a pinch — Wrangler third). Anyhow, I slapped down a fin and walked out with a decent pair of jeans in pretty good shape. A good day of shopping — or so I thought.

I got home, and to my great dismay, I realized I’d not paid sufficient attention to the crotch area of my new blue jeans — they were “button-fly” monstrosities.

Let me just rant for second. I’m a marketing guy by trade, and I understand how style can sometimes trump substance when it comes to consumer goods. But — goddammit — the zipper was invented a hundred freaking years ago for a reason. And that reason was to put the idiotic, inconvenient “button fly” out to pasture. The button fly is a thing that plainly sucks compared to the modern solution that replaced it. If I have a zipper, and I need to spring a leak, I just reach down, tug on the metal handle, and — hey now! — there are the necessary hoseworks. No fumbling with buttons, undoing belts, going half-dropped in the trou department — the zipper is just there, and it’s just plain better.

Today, I came to the bottom of my clean laundry. As always happens on such days, I was forced to don the dreaded 501 button-fly jeans. I endured them all day. But this evening — because I’m a total nerd — as I stumbled into the baffroom to drain the lizard, I began contemplating the possible Rock analogs for the button-fly jean and its sensible, more modern, clearly improved zipper counterpart.

I’m a frequent traditionalist when it comes to the Rock. But have there been bands or artists or genres, or perhaps tools of the trade, that saw clear and sensible improvement when they were supplanted by a better, more modern version or replacement? That’s the question I have. Sometimes progress is good, surely.

Now I feel bad that I called EPG out on my silly Beatles question earlier today. This is the issue on which I most eagerly seek his insight.

That goes for the rest of you, too. As always, I look forward to your responses.



  40 Responses to “God, I Hate Button-fly Jeans!”

  1. This is not likely to be a popular opening response, but the double bass – or stand-up bass, or whatever it’s called – is a button-fly jeans of music, at least whenever someone tries to bring it back into rock. It’s cool, sure. It’s old fashioned, certainly. It seems like a great idea, but I was trying to listen to some jazz with acoustic bass on my drives through Maine, and any time a bass solo came up it was inaudible. Stand-up bass cannot be heard over car rumbling, kids talking, etc. Even worse, I was listening to a John Coltrane song late one night, while the kids and my wife were sleeping. The acoustic bass solo came up, which I love when I can crank up a Coltrane album with no one around to worry about. I edged up the volume on the car stereo a couple of times to better hear the bass. Then the band comes back in and the horns are 8000 times louder than the bass, waking up everyone in the car. I don’t get much time to stroke my beard and tamp my pipe while listening to cool acoustic bass runs without interruption. Sorry, but give me electric bass.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Good one! There are certain contexts in which the electric bass is a no-brainer improvement.

    Mind you, there are some contexts where that’s *not* true (rockabilly for one). So I say to you: not a good one after all!

  3. Sure, and button-fly jeans are cool if you’re posing for the cover of the second Band album and have all day to take a leisurely piss in the woods.

  4. hrrundivbakshi


  5. Records and tapes = button fly.

    I know that there are quite a few vinyl lovers out there, but I grew up in the age of vinyl and spent serious amounts of money on LPs. The problems with records and tape?

    1. They’re relatively fragile and are not hard to damage.
    2. There is always surface noise or tape hiss no matter how well they’re made or taken care of.
    3. They have limited portability. It’s usually not convenient to carry around a large collection. As Chrysler found out in the 1950s, you can’t play your records in a car.
    4. They have limited dynamic range and records in particular have limited playing time. Try to cram more music in and you lose range and fidelity.
    5. You can’t back up your recordings without increasing noise and losing quality.
    6. No real random access of tracks.

    CDs were an intermediate step which greatly advanced the dynamic range, random-access, and signal-to-noise issues as well as largely eliminating wear. Now we have fully digital and media-independent music:

    1. It’s easy to carry a huge music collection everywhere you go on a small HD or thumb drive.
    2. Theoretically unlimited backups with zero fidelity loss. One never need lose a song again.
    3. No more clicks, pops, drop-outs, or noise.
    4. Fairly sturdy media. Besides, you have a backup, right?
    5. Instant access to whatever you want.

    Now I know there is the endless audio/digital sound argument. I’m not going there and for me it’s a non-issue. In terms of the means by which we play and store our music, the progress we’ve made in 30 years is absolutely stunning.

  6. Oh yeah, one important factor I left out – every time you play a record or tape, you wear it out just a little bit.

  7. jeangray


  8. BigSteve

    You guys must be really bad with buttons. I used to really like button-flies, especially the way I could pop the top button for some breathing room when I sat down without worrying about the zipper inching down. Then at some point in my mid-40s I got a look at myself in the mirror, and that phase of my life was over. ‘Relaxed fit’ jeans came along just in time.

    I think a modern sampled acoustic piano with a decent weighted midi keyboard is a no brainer, certainly in a live setting accompanying electric guitars and drums.

    To get beyond “tools of the trade” and electric instruments supplanting acoustic ones, I’m thinking about how Dylan came along during The Great Folk Scare of the 60s and pretty quickly made a lot of hootenanies seem irrelevant.

    Also think about Hendrix appearing in London and making Clapton and Townshend and others think that maybe they weren’t guitar heroes after all.

  9. I’m a piano player but to me having a decent acoustic piano is more bother and expense than I’m willing to put up these days. Instead, I have a black Kurzweil slab on a stand. It’s not pretty but it has fine sound, 88 weighted keys, makes a dandy controller, never needs tuning, wasn’t all that costly, and isn’t hard to move. I’m not going back to acoustic unless I win the lottery.

  10. jeangray

    “Also think about Hendrix appearing in London and making Clapton and Townshend and others think that maybe they weren’t guitar heroes after all.”

    Bullseye! We have a winner!

  11. I reluctantly agree. I carried a Kawai electric grand for years. It sounded great but what a pain. I finally replaced with a Cheetah MS7P controller and Emu module which didn’t come close in sound and feel. Still, the headaches it eliminated made it worth it. Now I have a Yamaha P-250 and I’ll never go back even if I do win the lottery.

  12. I cannot agree, tonyola. There is much I love about the digital age, but to me, records are like 100% cotton clothes. Nothing beats cotton. It’s nice and convenient having synthetic blends that don’t wrinkle, but when I get dressed up I want a cotton button-down shirt. I do miss, however, the 100% polyester shirts of my youth. And 8-track tapes had their charms too.

  13. hrrundivbakshi

    I like digital music just fine — in the aggregate, probably more than vinyl. But there are tradeoffs — there is something intrinsivally pleasing (perhaps only to old ears) about the *sound* of vinyl. And if you can’t get to that, surely you agree we’ve forever left the era of great cover art… which was an important thing. Button fly crotches have no redeeming qualities whatsoever; zippers are just better. So I’m going to rule “WRONG” on digital music being the zipper to vinyl’s Rock button fly.

  14. tonyola

    Ahhh, nostalgia. Such a comforting rose-hued fog. I’m sure there are people somewhere who insist on watching old movies on a vintage Philco black-and-white TV set. Watching them on a modern flatscreen is artificial, unnatural, and pixellated. There’s an analog warmth to 525 scan lines at 29.97 interlaced frames per second.

    I will concede the point about album art, though much of it can now be viewed on the internet. Besides, it’s tough to roll a joint on a USB stick.

  15. Good luck cleaning your weed in the gatefold of an mp3.

  16. Personally, my favorite way to buy music nowadays is vinyl record with a download coupon for the MP3s. I’m often willing to pay an extra $5-$10 once in a while. You get the portability PLUS the warmth and aesthetic goodness of vinyl. I kinda hate CDs these days. They’re a bitch to store, and they break and scratch just as easily as vinyl. And they’re kinda dumpy looking.

  17. tonyola

    There were problems with weed-cleaning on gatefold LPs. Glossy paper finishes didn’t work as well as matte finishes, but the matte would eventually discolor as fine dust works its way into the paper. Also, the paper in the inside spine of the gatefold cracks and splits with age so you end up getting seeds and crumbs stuck in the spine. I found it was best to have a dedicated tray for processing weed.

  18. tonyola

    I haven’t owned any vinyl or a turntable in nearly 20 years. I don’t miss them one bit. For me there is no charm whatsoever in outmoded media. I obviously love old music but I want it noise-free and in pristine quality on the best possible and most modern format.

  19. saturnismine

    finally, after almost two decades of cold sounding recordings, digital recording is finally preferable to analog.

    its conveniences (no rewinding, easier editing) were always an improvement.

    but its sound quality, i think, has caught up, almost to the point where the pro-analog set (among whom i used to walk) sound more and more like fetishisti instead of the ones who are right. e.g., see white comma jack.

    i’m no expert, however.

  20. misterioso

    Mod, I can’t fully agree with you here because I love the sound of stand-up bass in jazz and cannot countenance jazz with electric bass; but nonetheless I know what you mean about listening in the car and losing bass solos. I mean, you’re listening to A Love Supreme and for a couple of minutes you can barely hear anything because Jimmy Garrison’s flying solo: you crank up the sound; and then when the rest of the group comes in and it’s way too loud and everyone gets mad at you.

  21. Yeah, that’s really what I was getting at. I too love the sound of acoustic bass, but it doesn’t fly as well in our noisy, modern age as I’m sure it once did. I’m still hoping to come up with an even better example of musical button-fly jeans.

  22. misterioso

    tony, your comment about playing records in cars caught my eye: very interesting! It was before my time but apparently Chrysler did indeed do it. Based on the little I read, they didn’t pull the plug because the records wouldn’t play but because of other factors, such as that you had to buy special records, the mechanism was prone to breaking, etc. See or among others. I wonder if my grandfather had one of these: he was a Chrysler man and he loved gadgets of any kind.

  23. BigSteve

    In the UK punk rockers made the pub rockers old hat almost overnight. We might disagree about whether that was a “clear and sensible improvement,” but it was obvious enough to artists like Strummer, Costello, and Lowe that they jumped ship and acted like they’d never worn flares.

  24. saturnismine

    I thought about posting this one. It was an improvement to me, but probably not to all.

  25. saturnismine

    I suppose that at the time, many people disagreed with the following, but in retrospect, many people believe it:

    Led Zeppelin was a “clear and sensible improvement” on the Yardbirds led limey charge at electric blues.

  26. From what I’ve read, the players were still prone to skipping from unexpected bumps, rough railroad crossings, and the like. Interestingly enough, some of the earliest car CD players also had skipping problems on rough roads, though at least the disc wasn’t damaged by the treatment.

  27. Does anyone remember the football board game that ran plays off little records that you’d stick in a mini record player? Young andyr and I spent DAYS playing that game. Anyhow, that technology would have withstood the bumps on a long drive.

  28. hrrundivbakshi

    I’m prepared to say that post-Burdon WAR was a clear and undeniable improvement over pre-Burdon WAR. I don’t think anybody misses that dude.

  29. Yeah, I can’t really argue with that one. “Spill the Wine” was cute with a fun little groove and “They Can’t Take Away Our Music” achieves a certain majesty but the Burdon albums as a whole were a real trial to listen to. War really got it together starting with All Day Music.

  30. That’s hilarious – and it reminds me that I still need to make my case for the genius of Burdon, especially turned-on, late-period Animals Burdon.

  31. Oh, and last night I was reading through the liner booklet to the Nuggets box set when I was reminded that Richard Gotterher was not the only future producer to come out of The Strangeloves. Jerry Goldstein, the producer of all those cool, post-Burdon War albums, was also a Strangelove. He also wrote a lot of those War songs. He later went on to do soundtracks for major motion pictures.

  32. misterioso

    Bonne chance, mon frère. It was commendable, in principle, that Burdon wanted to expand beyond being a good r&b shouter. Unfortunately, he did not have the songwriting skills, the good taste, or the acumen to pull it off. There are good songs here and there but some it is unlistenable and too much is just not interesting. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t roll that rock up the hill, Sisyphus.

  33. His really bad taste, however, is key to what makes later-day Animals so interesting. I’m sure I’ll turn some heads the night I remember to build an entire SNSI around turned-on Burdon. It will probably keep a lot of young people from ever trying drugs, to boot.

  34. misterioso

    I see–I didn’t know that you meant this as a “this is Eric Burdon’s brain, this is Eric Burdon’s brain on acid” cautionary psa. In that case, you’ve got plenty of material.

  35. 2000 Man

    Get a better record player! Mine sound just the same as they did the day I got ’em. So long as I had my second Dual by then. The ones I owned before that are sadly lost in the landfill of my youth.

  36. 2000 Man

    It’s not just your ears. My youngest is 23 and just about to get his degree where he can be a sound engineer or something else where four guys are gazillionaires and everyone else works three jobs, and he loves the sound of vinyl. Something about it makes it easier to listen to for hours at a time.

  37. 2000 Man

    Those people at the time were right. The ones in retrospect are wrong.

  38. Mattel Talking Football. The offense puts in a 2 in record with the play. The Defense picks a defensive formation by turning the record in the player. The Player starts in the right run-in groove and gives a play-by-play of the result. Fairly limited gameplay.

    I like button-fly. No weird gaps or rolls since the buttons allow the fabric to flex.

  39. shawnkilroy

    i second this!

  40. Ok. This is related to the subject and does not add any new stone to the Vinyl vs CD argument.

    I agree. I HATE BUTTON FLY. I am prepared to put any amount of money in a pair of jeans only if I if can close the fly without breaking my nails.

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