"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.
"Cruel To Be Kind" was released on the Radar Records label in the UK and Columbia Records in the U.S. It was originally featured on Lowe’s second solo album Labour of Lust. The video to the song was one of the first music videos aired on MTV, and is a humorous re-enactment of Lowe's wedding to Carlene Carter, featuring Carter herself and Dave Edmunds as their limo driver. This version of the song has been included in many compilations of 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. 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 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 Lowe’s first solo album Jesus of Cool (Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.). This is now known as the "original" or "slow" version, as compiled on Lowe’s 1999 Box Set The Doings: The Solo Years.
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 albumLowe 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 WilcoiTunes-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..
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."