Cruel to Be Kind

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"Cruel to Be Kind"
Cruel to Be Kind.jpg
Cover of the 1979 UK single
Single by Nick Lowe
from the album Labour of Lust
B-side"Endless Grey Ribbon"
Released17 August 1979 (1979-08-17) (UK)[1]
GenrePower pop[2]
LabelRadar (UK)/Columbia (US)
Producer(s)Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe singles chronology
"Cracking Up"
"Cruel to Be Kind"
"Switch Board Susan"

"Cruel to Be Kind" is a song by Nick Lowe, co-written by Lowe and his former Brinsley Schwarz bandmate Ian Gomm. Written by Lowe and Gomm while the pair were in Brinsley Schwarz, the song was saved on a demo until Columbia Records convinced Lowe to release it. Musically, the song was inspired by "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, an influence reflected in more recent performances of the song.

Released as a single in 1979, the song peaked at number 12 on both the UK and US charts that summer.[3] It also peaked at No. 12 in Canada and Australia. In the US, where it is one of Lowe's most well-known works, 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 number 7 a year earlier.[4] The song was accompanied by a music video featuring Lowe's marriage to Carlene Carter.


"Cruel to Be Kind" was originally written by Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm while in Brinsley Schwarz, having been recorded as a demo during this period. Lowe stated, "I wrote that when I was with a band, Brinsley Schwarz, that I was with from the early '70s to about the mid-'70s. ... We recorded it on a demo, it never came out, and when I signed to Columbia Records the A&R man [Gregg Geller] there at the time suggested I record it again. And I didn't think it would do anything, but he kind of bullied me into it."[5]

Musically, the song was originally closer to a soul style. Lowe later said, “Initially... the inspiration was a song I loved by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes called, 'The Love I Lost', and the bass line was the same... we loved that Philly disco stuff from the 70's, The O'Jays, all that stuff, we loved that... I can't really remember much about recording it. It was just another tune that we did, you know, and I sent it over to New York to Gregg and said, Uhh, will this do?'"[6] In more recent live versions, Lowe has performed the song closer to "The Love I Lost"; he explained, "How I do it now sounds quite different. In fact, it was on the radio the other day and I was quite amazed how differently I do it now".[7]

"Cruel to Be Kind" proved to be Lowe's most successful American single. Lowe reflected on this, "When I had my couple of hits, I sort of felt like I was ticking a box more than, 'Great, I'm off now on a chart-topping career.' I felt that in order to do what I wanted to do, I had to do certain things, and one of them was to have a hit in my own right. At least one. I managed two or three, if you take in Europe. But in the United States, where it really matters, I had one hit and people still remember it, and it's a pretty good little song, you know?"[7] Lowe continues to perform the song live and still looks favorably upon the song, saying, "I really love it. It cheers people up. ... If they're good songs, they really will stand the test of time".[7]

Release history[edit]

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

This version was eventually issued as the non-album B-side of Lowe's "Little Hitler" single, culled from his first solo album in 1978, Jesus of Cool (retitled Pure Pop for Now People in the US). This is now known as the "original version," as compiled on Lowe’s 1999 box set The Doings: The Solo Years and the 2008 expanded reissue of Jesus of Cool, as well as a bootleg entitled It's All Over Now, based on the unreleased album of the same title.

The song was then re-recorded with Rockpile and appeared on Lowe's second album Labour of Lust in 1979. It was released as a single on the Radar Records label in the UK and Columbia Records in the United States, charting at number 12 in both countries. The cover art was done by Antoinette Laumer Sales, while the cover photograph of Nick Lowe was by Greg Irvine.

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 referred to in the ITV documentary Born Fighters. Lowe included the Labour of Lust version of the song on both the 1984 12" single of "Half a Boy and Half a Man," from 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," from his Dig My Mood album, and on the 2004 live album Untouched Takeaway.

The Labour of Lust version of "Cruel to Be Kind" has been included on 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,[8] as well as a humorous re-enactment of the wedding, featuring Carter as herself, Dave Edmunds as their limo driver,[8] Terry Williams as the photographer, Billy Bremner as the baker, and Jake Riviera (Nick's manager at the time) as the best man. The wedding took place on August 18, 1979, at the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood. All family stayed there for the wedding and reception (also 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..[19]

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
  • 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]
2017 Lisa Mitchell When They Play That Song

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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Mason, Stewart. Nick Lowe - Cruel to Be Kind at AllMusic. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Nick Lowe, "Cruel to be Kind" Chart Positions". Archived from Cover art by Antoinette Laumer Salestitle=Cruel+to+Be+Kind+by+Nick+Lowe&id=30646 the original Check |url= value (help) on March 2, 2015. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  4. ^ "Nick Lowe, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" Chart Position". Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  5. ^ "The Daily Cut: Nick Lowe "Cruel to Be Kind"". 98.5 WNCX. CBS. Archived from the original on 26 March 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  6. ^ "Speakeasy: Nick Lowe" (Interview). Front and Center Entertainment.
  7. ^ a b c "The Survivors: Nick Lowe". GQ. Condé Nast. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b Binelli, Mark. "St. Nick: The Long, Strange and Wonderful Career of Nick Lowe". Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  9. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 182. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  11. ^ "The Irish Charts - All there is to know > Search results for 'Nick Lowe' (from". Fireball Media, via Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  12. ^ " – Nick Lowe – Cruel to Be Kind". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  13. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  14. ^ "Billboard > Nick Lowe Chart History > Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "Kent Music Report No 288 – 31 December 1979 > National Top 100 Singles for 1979". Kent Music Report, via Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  17. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  18. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.
  19. ^ ".O.U.S.A. (2008) : Soundtracks". Retrieved 2016-10-14.

External links[edit]