HONG Kong's days as a music backwater are numbered. The slump in the West means bands are queueing up to play in the territory and with the latest import - Tower Records - you can now do more than just read about those latest releases. Although not a mega store by international standards, with 6,500 square feet of wall-to-wall ''product'' in the latest marble monolith - Times Square in Causeway Bay - Tower Records is four times larger than its nearest competitor and is set to make a lot of us run up some mileage on those credit cards. In all, there are 100,000 pieces of merchandise in the store and along with T-shirts, videos and mini discs, 80 per cent of the stock is CDs. There's also an impressive selection of magazines from America and Britain at very reasonable prices. When the boys from Tower first started looking at expanding their worldwide empire to Hong Kong about six months ago, they were not given much encouragement by the local record company representatives, who warned them that most music outside the Canto-pop genre just didn't sell here. Categories such as jazz and rap were no-wins, they were warned. Fortunately, the people at Tower Records ignored these words of wisdom, which were proved wrong from day one. Eager collectors were at the door by 9am last Saturday, impatient for the noon opening, and all day people were walking out with stacks of CDs under their arms. Jazz and catalogue albums were the most popular, with some people buying up entire collections of their favourite artists. According to store manager David Largent, the store's opening has been a bigger success than hoped for - accessories have been ''flying out of here, the magazines were an instant success and there's a demand for every category of music, especially jazz and jazz vocalists''. ''We got a pretty bland reaction from all the labels when we started asking about selling patterns, but the fact is that the stores here are very limited in what they sell so, if people can't find what they want, they don't buy anything,'' said Mr Largent. ''Tower's strength is that we stock as much as is logistically possible and, as a rule of thumb we find that 20 per cent of sales are the big hits, while 80 per cent is catalogue stuff - old Led Zeplin albums and jazz and blues singers for collections. ''I'd say the demand here has been easily underestimated,'' says the American. ''With Tower opening, there has been a big sigh of relief from promoters, radio stations and DJs as well. People were walking around goggle-eyed last weekend, we even sold outof some products. It was great to see.'' Tower Record's boast of offering easily the widest selection in Hong Kong was put to the test this week - we compiled a hit list of 20 album titles residents have been trying, unsuccessfully, to track down in Hong Kong, along with some albums considered a must-have for any ''serious'' record store. With a pass of 11 out of 20, the result was okay. Tower lost out in the heavy metal and obscure jazz sections, but surprised us with some early punk gems, and its huge array of stock for blues singers, such as Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. As a litmus test, we had a list of three albums each for the The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Two were standard store fare, while one fell into the cult category. We found two out of three for the Stones and Morrison, while all three on the Dylan list were there. To check the English 80s selection, we looked for and found a The Duritti Column album, but couldn't find The Vapours' album featuring the classic pop tune Turning Japanese, which a colleague has been hunting around for. But all is not lost - Tower Records will get in individual requests for people. The manager said it will take up to two weeks, but the staff say up to four weeks and no guarantees. But if it's available, either in Hong Kong or from the US, they'll get itfor you. However, they do not take names and phone numbers to let you know when it's in. The staff are a friendly and helpful bunch of people, but it will take a while before they know their way around the store well - we couldn't be directed to where we might find Otis Redding, for example. One handy hint - filing is done by first names, with the odd exception. The jazz and blues sections stretch around two walls of the store and spill into the middle aisles, and there are two full rows of Canto and Mandarin pop CDs, a row of Japanese pop and an impressive A-Z general section, along with reggae and new age selections. Classical music gets its own mini-store across the way on the seventh floor. There's a fairly small compilation section - we could find only one heavy metal compilation and nothing close to the St Valentine's Day Massacre album we were searching for. When it comes to searching, there's always the ''muze machine'' - a database of artist names and album titles which spits out a reference number so the store staff can quickly find something for you. Basically, Tower Records is that touch of music buying sophistication we've all been waiting for which, with a bit of consumer persuasion, will have to grow and grow to meet the eclectic popular demand . . . record companies take note.