Back in the very earliest days of Hi-Fi (high fidelity), everybody had a pipe organ record. It might have been, if the listener was into "pop" favorites, something featuring George Wright "at the mighty Wurlitzer organ". (Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, for example) or, if the listener was more classical music oriented, it might have been E. Power Biggs thundering out Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, working every key and every pedal mightily as if to prove the validity of his name.
Whatever it was, and whichever it was, what mattered more than the listener's taste in music was the fact that big pipe organs can make deep bass, and that, on those recordings, there was deep bass aplenty.
Bass was something that, unless their church had a pipe organ of respectable size or they were accustomed to "live" music (a band, either Big, or Marching, or a symphony orchestra), most people had probably never heard before Hi-Fi came along. And when Hi-Fi did hit the market, I'm going to bet that – in those monophonic, pre-stereo days – it was the bass, even more than greater clarity or extended treble, that created the first wave of audiophiles. (Triangles – another thing that they had probably never heard from their radio, TV, or non-Hi-Fi phonograph – were also a new treat, but nowhere near as exciting as having the walls and your guts rattled by even moderately deep bass played at high volume.)
In my experience, the first thing new audiophiles do upon getting their first decent sounding system is to listen to all of their old recordings and marvel at how much better they sound "now" than ever before. The next step is (or at least was, while such things were still around) to run right out to the nearest record store and buy more. And what do they buy? My guess is that at least a great many of them will buy, in addition to whatever sort of music they like best, a number of recordings chosen just for their sound quality or their ability to show off their new system, regardless of what the actual music might be – or even if it's music at all.
That was certainly the case after 1957, when stereo LPs first became available. There were at that time (and continue to be, even today, although we now call them "test" or "sound effects" records), a plethora of new recordings that came out that were nothing but the sounds of ping-pong games, jet planes or locomotives passing through the listening room, marching bands, and anything else – including, as I recall, even the sound of an atomic bomb test recorded from just twenty miles away – that was well-recorded and would show off the stereo effect and the wonders and glories of the new system.
Even after the system was no longer new, audiophiles continued to buy a mix of new music of their favorite kinds (classical, rock, jazz, C&W, etc.); new outstanding performances of familiar music (their eleventh recorded performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons or their ninth performance of the Shostakovich Symphony #15); and also whatever they discovered to be, or had been told was, particularly good-sounding.
That's why it seems that practically every audiophile in the world has a copy – and often more than one, in more than one medium – of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It's also how (to Americans) such genuine oddities as Le Mystere Des VoixBulgares [Mysterious Voices of Bulgarian Women] can become an audiophile smash hit and go on to multiple production runs and a second volume.
There's a claimed-to-be-true story that, at the right time on a hot summer day in the 1930s, when radio was at its peak, you could walk down any residential street in New York and be able, as you passed one house after another, to hear every word of the popular Amos 'n Andy Show through the windows that people had left open for cooling and ventilation. Something similar has been the case at Hi-Fi consumer and trade shows for as long as I've been going to them. How many of these do you remember? Cantate Domino [Proprius], Jazz at the Pawnshop [Proprius], Bachbusters [TELARC], For Duke [M&K RealTime], The Sheffield Drum Record [Sheffield], The Famous Sound of Three Blind Mice, vol.1 [TBM], Kodo [Sheffield], Dafos [Reference Recordings], River Music [Wilson Audio], The Flight of the Cosmic Hippo by Bela Fleck [Warner Bros.], The Pines of Rome [Mobile Fidelity], The Hi-Fi News and Record Review Test Disc [Denon HFN 003]. Every single one of them, at one Hi-Fi Show or another, was just like that storied Amos 'n Andy Show, and could have been heard coming from (almost) every exhibit as you walked the halls or aisles of the Show.
And what kind of music were they? One was European religious music sung by a mixed choir with pipe organ accompaniment; Another was Swedish small-group jazz; another was American Big Band jazz; one was Japanese "smooth" jazz; four were percussion extravaganzas, featuring everything from one HUGE drum to smaller drums, flutes, rattles, and creepy jungle noises; still another was baroque music for synthesizer; another was pure classical music for full symphony orchestra; yet another "wowed" us with electric banjo and bass, and the last one – The Hi-Fi News and Record Review Test Disc – featured, on track 14, someone, first talking and then banging as loud as he can on a metal garage door!
Although wildly diverse in musical content, all of these had one thing in common: they were exquisitely well-recorded. That made them runaway audiophile successes, and it also served another very important function: It helped to broaden our musical horizons.
Truthfully, how many non-Bulgarian people do you know who would – just by its name – be drawn to a recording of Bulgarian women singing... in Bulgarian? Same here. But, when the word gets out to the Hi-Fi community that the sound is to die for, that's bait that audiophiles (my friends and I call ourselves "HiFi Crazies"), will flock to and, once we've heard the sound and hear how hauntingly beautiful the music is, who knows? We might just become Bulgarian music fans.
In fact, the broadening works both ways, always to our favor: When listening to music or a musical genre that we already like, outstanding sound – just as much as an outstanding performance or a remarkable score – can influence us to buy a recording of it and to tell our audiophile friends of our great new sonic discovery. And, on the other hand, hearing something – a garage door, whale cries (as in And God Created Great Whales, a symphony with recorded whale cries by Alan Hovhaness), a marching band, or even Bulgarian women – anything at all that we're not familiar with and might otherwise never have heard, recorded in its full glory can lure us into a whole new realm of musical experience and open (with honors to both Blake and Morrison) the doors of perception to more of the same and even to other things still unknown.
It works both ways: The music (a tenth new performance of the Shostakovich 15, for example) can lead us into joyous and thrilling new sound, and great sound can also draw us to whole new musical genre heretofore unexplored, to gladden our hearts, enrich our lives, and broaden our experiential and cultural horizons.
And thinking that, I'm going to go pick a recording – maybe something new – put it on, sit back, close my eyes and...
Enjoy the music!