Nick Lowe: “Cruel to Be Kind” (1979)

His first (and only) US hit and a new marriage to Carlene Carter are the high points of Lowe’s career.

Kronomyth 2.1: Here and gomm.

This is Nick Lowe’s most recognizable hit and was my introduction to the man, barring his production work. Despite the vast number of things I’ve forgotten, I think I remember a television ad with Nick Lowe in a stadium catching guitars promoting the Labour of Lust album while this song played. Co-written with Brinsley Schwarz mate Ian Gomm, Cruel to Be Kind is three-and-a-half-minutes of pop perfection. If pressed, it would be down to this song, “So It Goes” and “Rollers Show” for the title of my favorite Nick Lowe song (and, yes, I’m including that Elvis Costello song in there too).

The B side is a nonalbum track (in the US, anyway), Endless Grey Ribbon, that leans decidedly toward the country side of Lowe’s country/pop interests. A clever idea about a truck driver lamenting his lost youth (the endless grey ribbon is the highway), the song might have been a real winner if Lowe had stuck with it rather than tossing it off half finished. Still, the scraps from Lowe’s bountiful brain are better than most people’s moments of inspiration. Of very minor interest, the song’s title presents us with an opportunity for a helpful anglish lesson: the difference between “grey” and “gray.” Grey is the preferred spelling in England, gray the preferred spelling in America. Earl Grey tea. The gray area in the Geneva Convention. You get the idea.

Original 7-inch single version

A1. Cruel to Be Kind (Nick Lowe/Ian Gomm) (3:26)
B1. Endless Grey Ribbon (Nick Lowe) (3:15)

Back-to-back hits 7-inch single (US)
A1. So It Goes (Nick Lowe) (2:29)
B1. Cruel to Be Kind (Nick Lowe/Ian Gomm) (3:26)

Back-to-back hits 7-inch single (Canada)
A1. Cruel to Be Kind
B1. Switchboard Susan

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch single in June 1979 in the US and Canada (Columbia, 3-11018) and the UK (Radar, ADA43), on September 14, 1979 in Germany (WEA, RAD 17 440) and in 1979 in Belgium (Warner Bros, WB 17440) with regional picture sleeve. Reached #12 on the US charts (charted on July 28, 1979 for 15 weeks) and #12 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-packaged with “So It Goes” on back-to-back hits 7-inch single in 1980 in the US (Columbia Hall of Fame, 33398).
  2. Re-packaged with “Switchboard Susan” on B2B hits 7-inch single in Canada (Columbia Hall of Fame, C41052).

2 thoughts on “Nick Lowe: “Cruel to Be Kind” (1979)

  1. One of my friends loves to perform this song at karaoke. Thanks to anti-vaxxers, there won’t be karaoke anytime soon. By the way, Dave, did you like the list I sent you of the 80 best Genesis songs?

    1. Hey, Miles. I did like going through that list, although “Cul-de-Sac” was the last Genesis song I truly enjoyed. In fact, they’re playing live near me and I can’t work up the interest to go because half of the material is Abacab and after. I’m a terrible Genesis fan.

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