Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind (1979, Vinyl) - Discogs

2021 Song Draft- Round 1 Pick 9- Mike And Paul’s Music Blog- selects- ‘Cruel To Be Kind’- Nick Lowe.

Paul’s blog can be found at- https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/84200726

First, thanks to Hans and Max for inviting me to be part of this draft!  I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s choices so far.  Since I’m newcomer to this, I’ve decided to just feature songs that mean something to me in some way. So here goes.

A perfect example of power pop, this song takes me back to my days living in Philly in the early 90s.

When I was younger and single, I had this habit that when a band came to town that I wanted to see, I just went and bought a pair of tickets, many times before knowing if anyone I knew would be able to or was interested in going.  Most times I cold corral a friend to attend, sometimes I would sell the other ticket outside the venue, and sometimes it would serve as a great date idea. 

Such it was in 1992, when the band Little Village came to Philly. A “supergroup” of sorts, Little Village was John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner, the latter three all having played on Hiatt’s breakthrough album, 1987 Bring the Family.  Being a huge Hiatt fan, I immediately got tickets, and ended up taking a young lady (whose name I no longer remember) to the concert on a first date.  She was a trooper during the show, given that she didn’t know Little Village, or any of the material from the member’s solo work that was being played.  But I could tell she was getting restless – and then about 3/4s of the way through the concert, Nick Lowe stepped forward and the band played Cruel to be Kind. She turned to me and said – “I love this song – its one of my favorites!”  Date saved!  Although as you can probably tell, nothing long term really came of that date – I don’t think there was a second date – but I digress!

Cruel to be Kind is off of Nick Lowe’s 1979 album Labour of Lust and was his highest (and really only) hit single in the US, reaching #12 on the charts.  It was originally co-written by Lowe and fellow Brinsley Schwarz bandmember Ian Gomm for an album that never got released.  Lowe re-recorded it for Labour of Lust and the rest as they say is history.  As All Music notes, its “one of those songs where seemingly every single element of the tune and arrangement is its own hook.” I love the drum flutter at the beginning of the song, as it builds the anticipation of the start of the first verse.  The harmony vocals, especially during the bridge, take the song to the next level. 

Apparently, the phrase “cruel to be kind” is adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”  The lyrics do capture a decidedly jaded view of love:

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

Source: Songfacts; All Music; Wikipedia; YouTube.


  1. Great selection Paul. This song is power pop greatness. I can say that about many of Nick Lowe’s songs but this one had the mojo for the mass audience.
    That was a supergroup…I would have loved to have seen them…I caught them on Letterman or some show back then I believe.

    • Thank Max! Yeah it was an entertaining show esp as they played a lot of their solo stuff. As with a lot of supergroups ego and creative differences resulted in them breaking up after only that one album.

    • I wish more artist did what they did and combine forces. That is what I like about Ringo’s All Starr tours…you always get a good show with different music.

    • About the only “supergroup” I can think of that has done it long term is Nee Pornographers though not really well known in US individually beyond Neko Case I would say

  2. This song reminds me of 60’s “bubblegum” music, as it has that sound. The vocal harmonies are also reminiscent of that sound.

    Maybe I’m a bit weird, but the first thing that caught my ear was that little drum kick/fill that is repeated in the intro and occasionally throughout the song. Lol. I love little things like that.

    I am very familiar with Nick Lowe, and don’t recall ever hearing this one. I enjoyed it.

  3. I knew Nick Lowe from producing those Elvis albums in the late 70’s- his music though I discovered when I heard this song- of course I was hooked- had to get the first two albums and have been a fan for life. Great selection!

  4. Great song from an under-rated artist. One can only imagine how many more good songs Lowe & Dave Edmunds could have delivered had the record companies not interfered.

    • Thanks Dave. Have to admit I’m not up on this backstory but I know of plenty of other examples of record companies screwing things up for the artists.

    • I think the basic summary of it is Nick and Dave were good friends and liked working together, formed a band called Rockpile but because they were on different labels, neither label wanted them to do much under that name & balked at them having too much involvement in one another’s albums. Might be a bit of a simplification, but that is the gist of it.

  5. I was just listening to ‘Little Village’ a while ago. Very cool selection. I was all over Nick’s music back then. He’s still doing it. Enjoyed the piece Paul Love those personal stories. A good song by NL. He knows how to write them.

    • Thanks CB! Yes I just saw an alert on Spotify that he has a new one out – either song or album not sure. Need to look into it.

    • Im all over those guys from LV. Hiatt is an American treasure so is Cooder. Very cool that you seen them. Ever seen the cut of Cooder doing Prodigal Son’ with his son and friends? Very cool, Check it out. Back to Nick. He can do no wrong with me.

    • Hiatt is one of my favorite artists – been following him since 87 – seen him multiple times met him once. – very cool and down to earth. Actually seeing him this fall. He will have a song in the draft ! Will check the Cooder cut – not seem it. Thanks!

  6. I remember when this came out. I was 12/13 and in 8th grade. It is a really cool song to a ‘tween. I guess it kinda qualifies as a “one hit wonder.” His band mate Ian Golm also had some good solo stuff, too. I nearly forgot about him until Dave did a post on him.

    Awesome pick!

  7. I appreciate hearing why the song is special to you. Been a long time since hearing it, but it’s a polished pop tune I’ve always liked. Nice choice, Paul!

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