DJ hopes to make Leo Sayer a star again (but he has to find him first)

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When Leo Sayer clambered aboard the disco bandwagon in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year of 1977, it was, by his then high standards, an embarrassing flop.

Where his previous ballad, "When I Need You", had topped the charts, its successor, the distinctly more upbeat "Thunder In My Heart", failed even to dent the top 20. The diminutive star began a slow descent into resentful bitterness at the pop world's neglect.

Yet now, a re-working by DJ Meck under the title "Thunder In My Heart Again" is being tipped as the biggest dance hit in years, with the backing of the likes of Pete Tong and Jo Whiley. But while Sayer seemed happy to give his blessing when first approached about the project, now that he is on the verge of his biggest hit in three decades, he is nowhere to be found.

A new video was made without him after he proved hard to find in Australia, where he moved at the beginning of the year. And occasional e-mails suggest that he has little idea that he is storming up the dance charts as the nation's taste-makers give him a strong vote of approval.

As Pete Tong, who has been playing the track regularly on his Essential Selection show on Radio 1, put it in Mixmag: "Meck's made it all sound cool and boy does this one work. Stand back and watch it blow up everywhere." His fellow DJ Jo Whiley described the track as "a true guilty pleasure".

The project began when 30-something Meck, who has previously worked under other names in the music business, was browsing in a thrift shop in Los Angeles and came across the Thunder in My Heart album. "I flicked through the title track and it absolutely blew me away. The production values were just absolutely awesome and lyrically it's so heartfelt and angst-ridden," he said.

"I really wanted to use some of the record and beef it up and bring it up to date and see where it went. I would never have known it was a Leo Sayer record. You probably think of two or three records he did that people unfortunately think of as being a bit naff or not cool. This is so not that Leo Sayer."

Having made the track in April, Meck tracked down Sayer to get the proper permissions to release it, which were quickly granted. "I think he was particularly excited that someone in the world of dance had taken one of his records and tried to do this," Meck said.

"He left Britain and I think he felt a bit of an outsider, a bit shunned, maybe, by the record industry. But I don't think he knows how well the record is doing and how it's just exploded. Today it was played twice on Radio 1 in two hours and it isn't even on their A-list [which guarantees a certain number of plays]."

Ewan Grant, a music consultant to Universal's new Apollo label, which has licensed the track from Free2air Recordings, said he had no qualms about releasing a record with Leo Sayer. "The biggest record of last year was Tony Christie [with 'Amarillo']," he observed.

"After Leo had had a string of number ones in the 1970s, he wanted to move into the world of disco and this was mocked by his peers at the time, but actually it's a really good record. It's pretty bizarre that it's all coming around for him again, but he's certainly not showing any great interest in being involved so as a label we just got on with it."

The record is not officially released until 6 February, by which point Meck and the label are hoping it will have found a mainstream audience and prove to be an even bigger hit than the previous dance triumph, Eric Prydz's "Call On Me".

What it means for Leo Sayer's future career remains to be seen, though his best-of album, Endless Journey, is already returning to the record stores in the wake of the new interest.

"In my heart of hearts, I hope there's a Leo revival, but I don't feel that I need to be the one who sees it through for him," Meck said.

Thirty years of hits

* 1973: Sayer releases his first album Silverbird which charts at number two. The single, "The Show Must Go On", reaches number one in the UK.

* 1974: "One Man Band" reaches number six in the UK in June and "Long Tall Glasses" gets to number four in September. His second album Just A Boy reaches number four.

* 1975: The album Another Year is released and includes "Moonlighting", which rockets to number two in the UK.

* 1975: "Long Tall Glasses" reaches number nine in the US.

* 1976: The Endless Flight album goes platinum in America.

* 1977: "When I Need You" tops the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

* 1978: "I Can't Stop Loving You (Though I Try)" shoots to number six in the UK.

* 1980: "More Than I Can Say" grabs the number two slot in the US and Britain. It was written by Jerry Alison and Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly's backing group The Crickets.

* 1982: "Have You Ever Been In Love" reaches number 10 in the UK.

* 1983: "Orchard Road" reaches 16 and "Til You Come Back To Me" slumps to number 51 in the UK.

* 1986: A cover version of "Unchained Melody" gets to number 54 in the UK charts.

* 1998: The Groove Generation land at number 32 in the UK charts with a 90's style re-working of Leo's classic "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing".

* 2005: Dundee United fans hear the first public broadcast of "Hamish the Goalie" at Tannadice Park, sung by Leo Sayer.