Cruel To Be Kind

Album: Labour of Lust (1979)
Charted: 12 12


  • This song reflects on a lover's rather antagonistic attitude. Nick Lowe co-wrote the song with his Brinsley Schwarz bandmate, Ian Gomm, for the Brinsley Schwarz album, It's All Over Now, though said album was never officially released. In 1979, Lowe re-recorded the song for his second solo album, Labour of Lust.

    Lowe and Gomm were hoping the song would be a pop hit for Brinsley Schwarz, and crafted it for mass consumption. Lowe only grudgingly recorded it, and he considered it an aberration - a pop sell-out song. When he performed the song on The David Letterman Show, he called it "wimpy" and had little interest in discussing it.
  • Lowe cribbed the phrase "cruel to be kind" from Shakespeare, who used it in Hamlet:

    I must be cruel only to be kind
    Thus bad begins and worse remains behind
  • Lowe revealed the musical influence behind this song to The A.V. Club: "I wrote with 'The Love I Lost' by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in mind."
  • This was Lowe's highest charting hit in the US, where it peaked at #12 (coincidentally, it also peaked at #12 in the UK, Canada and New Zealand). Lowe spoke to The A.V. Club about his chart success: "I remember coming to Los Angeles when it was a hit, and did that thing where you change the radio station, and it was on about two or three at the same time. You could hear it starting on one station and finishing on another. Amazing."
  • The official video is a comedic reenactment of Lowe's marriage to Carlene Carter, who plays herself in the clip.

    The couple were married on August 18, 1979 after Lowe had just finished a tour with his band Rockpile. Figuring he could kill two birds with one stone, Lowe made the wedding the theme of the video, and used some actual footage of the event, turning his wedding day into a video shoot (although aren't they all, sort of?). The day before, director Chuck Statler shot staged footage of Lowe preparing for the nuptials and Rockpile performing the song outside of the Tropicana Hotel in Los Angeles, where the reception was held.

    The wedding took place at Carlene's house in Hollywood. Guests at the wedding show up in the clip - you can spot Carter's stepsister Rosanne Cash sitting on the couch.

    Carter and Lowe toured together in 1982, opening for The Cars, with both singers sharing the same band. The couple divorced in 1990.
  • Rockpile guitarist Dave Edmunds plays the chauffeur in the video. Drummer Terry Williams was the photographer. Guitarist Billy Bremner also got a role, playing the guy who serves the cake.

    "We were having great fun," Edmunds said in his Songfacts interview. "In that band, the four years we were together, we never had any falling out - it was a little club of our own."
  • The drum kit Rockpile drummer Terry Williams plays in the video says "Textones" on the bass drum. That's because Rockpile didn't have all their gear handy, so they borrowed some for the shoot from a local band called the Textones, whose frontwoman, Carla Olson, was friends with the wife of Nick Lowe's manager, Jake Riviera. Seizing the promotional opportunity, The Textones hit up a hardware store and bought big black letters to spell their band name on the drum head. When the video came out with their name clearly visible, they were sure they would land a record deal. They didn't, but their guitarist, Kathy Valentine, did big things when she joined The Go-Go's in 1981.
  • In 1982, Enjoh Santyuutei released a Japanese cover version of this song and in 2010, Stavros Michalakakos recorded it in Greek.
  • The video was one of 206 that aired on MTV's first day of broadcasting: August 1, 1981.

Comments: 2

  • Michael from Illinois, IlDave Edmunds was the chauffeur in the video. Nick Lowe played bass on Dave's solo albums and was with him in Rockpile.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhFun song. Interesting to know the video aired on MTV's first day of broadcasting. I don't remember the video at all. However, about 1990, Carlene Carter had her own musical fame with several country hits. She was gorgeous, and I can't help thinking if they'd shot Nick Lowe's video with some close-ups of Carlene, it could have propelled this song higher that #12 on the charts. It was a more innocent time back then I guess.....
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Dean Friedman - "Ariel"They're Playing My Song

Dean's saga began with "Ariel," a song about falling in love with a Jewish girl from New Jersey.

Jesus In Pop Hits: The Gospel Songs That Went MainstreamSong Writing

These overtly religious songs crossed over to the pop charts, despite resistance from fans, and in many cases, churches.

Creedence Clearwater RevivalFact or Fiction

Is "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" about Vietnam? Was John Fogerty really born on a Bayou? It's the CCR edition of Fact or Fiction.

Christmas SongsFact or Fiction

Rudolf, Bob Dylan and the Singing Dogs all show up in this Fact or Fiction for seasonal favorites.

80s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

MTV, a popular TV theme song and Madonna all show up in this '80s music quiz.

George ClintonSongwriter Interviews

When you free your mind, your ass may follow, but you have to make sure someone else doesn't program it while it's wide open.