Import George Michael/Mary J. Blige Duet Hits U. S. Airwaves

At one station, program director says Mary J. Blige's label has asked him to stop playing 'As.'

SAN FRANCISCO -- A duet between pop singer George Michael and hip-hop

soul queen Mary J. Blige that was left off the U.S. version of Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Best of George Michael is getting radio airplay in some major markets.

Apparently, as a result, an import version of the album is selling briskly here in the San

Francisco Bay Area.

The song, a gospel-fueled cover of R&B singer Stevie Wonder's "As," is on the European

version of the two-CD greatest-hits package. Blige's label, MCA, didn't license the track

for U.S. release; the label hasn't said why.

During an interview broadcast on MTV in November, Michael claimed the track was

pulled from the U.S. version after he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public restroom

in April. Michael was convicted in May.

KMEL-FM here began playing "As" a week and a half ago and has been flooded with

requests for it ever since, program director Joey Arbagey said.

Arbagey said he also got a request from MCA not to play the song.

"They can ask me not to play it, but they can't tell me not to play it," he said. "This is a

song our listeners want to hear, so we're playing it."

An MCA spokeswoman had no comment Tuesday. A representative at Michael's label,

Epic, couldn't be reached.

At KMEL's sister station in Philadelphia, WUSL-FM, "As" currently is the

17th-most-requested song, according to music director Glen Cooper. "For a song we've

only been playing for two weeks, that's pretty good," he said.

Cooper said MCA hasn't called WUSL to protest.

He said WUSL programmers were intrigued by "the combination of Mary J. Blige and

George Michael and the fact that they are covering a Stevie Wonder song. So we went

out and picked up the import and we were really shocked at how good it was. There was

really no question; we put it on immediately."

Another sister station, WPGC-FM in Washington, D.C., also is playing the duet, according

to Cooper.

In San Francisco, two stores, Tower Records and Virgin Megastore, reported strong

sales of the import version of Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael.

James Lewis, a sales associate at Virgin, said the album is "one of our best-selling

imports," and he noted that sales have picked up considerably since KMEL began airing

the song.

In the November MTV interview, Michael said "As" was "one of the best performances

[Blige has] ever given. So I think she's kind-of really pissed off that it's not going to be out

here in the States."

Cooper said it would make sense now to release "As" as a single in the U.S. "The

reaction thus far has been strong enough," he said.

Both the American and European versions of Ladies and Gentlemen feature such

Michael hits as "Faith," "Father Figure" and "I Want Your Sex"

(RealAudio excerpt).