Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind

May the 4th be with you…

A great little pop/rock song. The song was on the album Labor of Lust and the album peaked at #31 in the Billboard Album Charts in 1979. Rockpile recorded this album and at the same time recorded Edmunds solo album Repeat When Necessary.

12 was popular with this song…The song peaked at #12 in many charts… Billboard 100, Canada RPM, New Zealand, and the UK… In Ireland, it only reached #19.

Nick Lowe said about the song: “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.”

The video featured Nick’s wife Carlene Carter who had just got married Nick shortly before and included some real footage of the ceremony in the video. 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.

This would be Nick’s only top forty hit in Billboard.

 

From Songfacts

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 was 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.

“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 in the video says “The Textones.” That’s because Rockpile didn’t have a drum kit handy, so they borrowed one from a local band. Kathy Valentine, who would later join The Go-Go’s, was a member of this band.

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.

Cruel To Be Kind

Oh I can’t take another heartache
Though you say you’re my friend, I’m at my wit’s end
You say your love is bonafide, but that don’t coincide
With the things that you do
And when I ask you to be nice, you say

You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

Well I do my best to understand dear
But you still mystify and I want to know why
I pick myself up off the ground
To have you knock me back down, again and again
And when I ask you to explain, you say

You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

Well I do my best to understand dear
But you still mystify and I want to know why
I pick myself up off the ground
To have you knock me back down, again and again
And when I ask you to explain, you say

You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

(Cruel to be kind), oh in the right measure
(Cruel to be kind), it’s a very very very good sign
(Cruel to be kind), it means that I love you, baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

(Cruel to be kind), oh in the right measure
(Cruel to be kind), yes it’s a very very very good sign
(Cruel to be kind), it means that I love you, baby
(You’ve gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind

(Cruel to be kind), oh in the right measure
(Cruel to be kind), yes it’s a very very very good sign
(Cruel to be kind), it means that I love you

Author: badfinger20

Guitar, Bass, song writer,

17 thoughts on “Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind”

  1. one of my favorite singles from that year. I knew Nick produced Elvis but wasn’t aware of his solo career at that point- been a big fan ever since. Went out and bought Labour Of Lust- fun pop album.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good song – wish Rockpile had worked together more (no matter what moniker they used). I never knew Ian Gomm was connected to them – his “Hold On” is another favorite of mine from that era that I only hear once in awhile now in supermarkets… radio seems to have forgotten altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have never listened to those…the one I knew was Seconds of Pleasure.
        I will have to check these out man…I’ve always liked their sound.

        Like

  3. To me this is quintessential, smart Pop with a capital P. Love this song. Love Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. Their live rendition of “Little Sister” with Robert Plant singing is spectacular. “Play it pretty for Elvis.”

    Liked by 1 person

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