There Was a Little Boy
Writer(s): Kevin Gilbert, Patrick Leonard (see lyrics here)
Released: June 28, 1990 (as an album cut)
Peak: 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): --
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming
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About the Song:
Patrick Leonard made his name as a keyboardist, producer, and composer who worked with Madonna, but he wanted to strike out on his own. He tapped bassist Guy Pratt and producer Bill Bottrell, who had also worked with Madonna for his new group, Toy Matinee. He also recruited guitarist Tim Pierce, drummer Brian MacLeod of Wire Train, and singer, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, who’d released two albums with the band Giraffe.
The self-titled album produced two minor album-rock hits with “Last Plane Out” and “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge,” but the group disintegrated when everyone went back to other projects. On a personal note, I remember hearing “Last Plane Out” on the radio and seeing the video on MTV. It didn’t grab me quite enough at the time that I decided to check out the entire album. For reasons I don’t remember, I did decide to give the album a shot in the spring of 1992. I’m not sure what prompted me to investigate Toy Matinee then, but my assumption is that I stumbled across the CD in a cut-out bin.
It became that rare album where I eventually embraced every cut. The song that stood out the most, though, was “There Was a Little Boy.” It tackled the subject of child abuse, a topic recently traversed by other 1990 hits like Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and Madonna’s “Oh Father.” “There Was a Little Boy” took the perspective of a nine-year-old boy whose new stepfather “waits around to play with sister / But he plays too serious, he plays too rough.” As an adult, he finds himself “questioning his once upon a time” as he tries to deal with the long-term effects of abuse. Gilbert sings, “This boy was once a strong man, but getting weaker / He carries more than just the shame inside.”
The song matched the lyrical heft with its instrumental. An incessant beat demands the listener to crank up the sound and break into some serious air drumming. Gilbert amps up the volume himself when he gets to the chorus. While I’m fortunate to have never endured abuse myself, my heart goes out to those who have. Kudos to Leonard or Gilbert for crafting a song which, I suspect is a very personal message from one of them to anyone else who has been abused.
First posted 11/8/2020; last updated 7/12/2022.