Cruel to Be Kind

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"Cruel to Be Kind"
Cover of the 1979 UK single
Single by Nick Lowe
from the album Labour of Lust
B-side "Endless Grey Ribbon"
Released August 1979 (1979-08)
Format 7" single
Genre Power pop[1]
Length 3:31
Label Radar
Producer(s) Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe singles chronology
"Cracking Up"
"Cruel to be Kind"
"Switchboard Susan"

"Cruel to Be Kind" is a 1979 single by Nick Lowe, co-written by Lowe and his former Brinsley Schwarz band-mate Ian Gomm, that peaked at No. 12 in both the UK and U.S. charts that summer. It also peaked at No.12 in both Canada and New Zealand. In the U.S., where it is Lowe's most well-known work, it remains his only single to hit the top 40, whereas in the UK "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass" remains his biggest hit after reaching No. 7 a year earlier.

Release history[edit]

The song was originally written and recorded for the last Brinsley Schwarz album It’s All Over Now, which was never officially released.

It next appeared as a non-album B-side on the single "Little Hitler" off Nick Lowe’s first solo album Jesus of Cool (retitled Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.). This is now known as the "original" version, as compiled on Lowe’s 1999 Box Set The Doings: The Solo Years, as well as a bootleg based on the unreleased "It's All Over Now", of the same title. (Not to confused with the "Jesus of Cool" version).

It was finally released on Nick Lowe’s first solo album Jesus of Cool (1978) but was then re-recorded with Rockpile and appeared on Lowe's second (1979) album Labour of Lust, where it became a UK top 10 hit. It was released on the Radar Records label in the UK and Columbia Records in the United States.

The single was backed with the non-album Lowe solo song "Endless Grey Ribbon" which Lowe had originally composed for fellow Rockpile member Dave Edmunds, as seen in the BBC documentary "Born Fighters". Lowe included the Labour of Lust version of the song on the 1984 12" single of "Half a Boy and Half a Man" off his album Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit, as well as the EP version of his single "All Men are Liars" from 1990’s Party of One. It also appears on the 2010 "soundtrack" album "inspired" by the 2006 motion picture The Ant Bully. Live versions of the song appear on Lowe’s 1998 EP "You Inspire Me", off his Dig My Mood album, and on the 2004 live album Untouched Takeaway.

The re-recorded, Labour of Lust, version of the song has been included in many compilations of Nick Lowe’s work, including 1985’s 16 All Time Lowes, 1990’s Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe, 1999’s The Doings: The Solo Years, 2002’s Anthology and 2009’s Quiet Please... The New Best of Nick Lowe. It has also been included on many various artists compilations of hits of the 70s, such as Poptopia! 70’s Power Pop Classics.

Music video[edit]

The video to the song was one of the first music videos aired on MTV, and is a combination of actual footage of Lowe's wedding to Carlene Carter (they needed someone to do it, so the director stepped in), as well as a humorous re-enactment of the wedding, featuring Carter as herself, Dave Edmunds as their limo driver, Terry Williams as the photographer, Billy Bremner as the baker, and Jake Riviera (Nick's manager at the time) as the best man. Both the wedding (certain parts) and video were shot on August 18, 1979 at the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood. All family stayed there for the wedding, as well as the reception (slightly featured in the video). Filming for the video took so long, that Lowe was actually late to the wedding.

Chart performance[edit]


The track has been covered by many artists, notably including co-writer Ian Gomm, first on his own 1997 album Crazy for You, then again in 2005 for the various artists tribute album Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe. Japanese- and Greek-language versions have been released by various artists, as well as both instrumental versions and dance remixes.

A Wilco iTunes-only release in January 2012 features Lowe on vocals with the band backing (they were touring together at the time). The original recording was played during the end credits for the documentary I.O.U.S.A..[5]

Singer-Songwriter Freedy Johnston often performs the song in concert, accompanied by solo ukulele.

Year Singer/Group Album Comments
1982 Enjoh Santyuutei Koi No Howan Howan [single]
  • Japanese version
1999 Pitwork Shine [EP]
1999 Letters to Cleo 10 Things I Hate About You
2001 Marshall Crenshaw and Christine Ohlman Labour of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe
  • tribute album to Nick Lowe
2002 Poti Poti Poti Poti
  • Children's version
2002 Naím Thomas No Tenga Prisa
  • also released as a single, with a dance remix version
2002 Robin Renée All Six Senses
2004 Kay Hanley Instant Live: The Paradise Boston MA 8/26/04
  • former lead singer of Letters to Cleo
2005 The Bleeding Hearts eMusic Live: The Bleeding Hearts at Cat’s Cradle 3/18/2005
2006 Jody Whitesides Cruel to be Kind [single]
2007 Lazlo Bane Guilty Pleasures
2007 Sammy G You Don’t Listen to Me
2010 Kurt Baker Got It Covered
2010 Matt Durket Atomic Batteries to Power
2010 Stavros Michalakakos Vres to Nisi [single]
  • Greek version ("Find the Island")
2011 Lovers and Poets Cruel to be Kind [single]

The Lowe/Gomm composition should not be confused with the song "You've Got to Be Cruel to Be Kind" which was a UK hit for Unit 4 + 2 in December 1965, nor for the song "Cruel To Be Kind" by Spacehog, released in 1996. No doubt all of these songs owe their inspiration, directly or indirectly, to Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act III, scene 4), in which Hamlet tells his mother, "I must be cruel only to be kind."


External links[edit]