Song Lyric Sunday — Kind of Cruel

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday prompt, Jim Adams has given us the themes of brutal, cruel, frenzy, savage, and violent. I’m not normally a sadistic kind of a guy, so this was a little tough for me, but I finally ended up with the song, “Cruel To Be Kind,” not so much because I like the song, but because I figured that a lot of others would have chosen my first choice, Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” and I didn’t want to be redundant.

“Cruel To Be Kind” was a song performed by Nick Lowe and co-written by Lowe and his former Brinsley Schwarz bandmate, Ian Gomm. Written by Lowe and Gomm while the pair were in Brinsley Schwarz, the song was saved on a demo until Columbia Records convinced Lowe to release it. Lowe said that he only grudgingly recorded it because it had been written for mass consumption and he considered it to be a pop sell-out song. It was released as a single in 1979 and peaked at number 12 on U.S. charts that summer. It was Lowe’s only single to hit the top 40 and was one of his most well-known songs.

Musically, the song was inspired by “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, an influence noticeable in more recent performances. The song reflects on a lover’s rather antagonistic attitude.

Lowe said that he got 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.

The official video is a comedic reenactment of Lowe’s marriage to Carlene Carter, daughter of Johnny Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. Carlene plays herself in the clip. The two were married on August 18, 1979 and the wedding took place at Carlene’s house in Hollywood. Lowe decided to leverage the wedding for the video by having the wedding the theme for the video, and used some actual footage of the event.

The video of the song was one of 206 music videos that aired on MTV’s first day of broadcasting on August 1, 1981.

Here are the lyrics to “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

And for those of you who haven’t gotten your fill of this song, here’s the MTV music video:

14 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday — Kind of Cruel

  1. Jeff Cann June 20, 2021 / 5:30 am

    Sure, it’s a sellout, but it was very much appreciated by 17 year old me when it came out. I didn’t wind up writing about it, but I referenced it in my post. Sigh, I miss new wave. It was such a happy time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liz BlackX June 20, 2021 / 6:12 am

    ‘Lowe said that he only grudgingly recorded it because it had been written for mass consumption and he considered it to be a pop sell-out song.’

    Funny how that works 😄 You hate the song because it’s too poppy and it turns out to become your greatest, and only, hit 😅

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Cann June 20, 2021 / 7:35 am

      I once told my brother that I saw Cruel to Be Kind in a list of One-Hit-Wonders. He lashed out at me. As a huge Lowe fan, he said the point of Lowe’s repertoire wasn’t to create hits, and having one was incidental rather than the goal. I appreciate the catchiness of the song, and I don’t think having a hit is ever bad for a band–brings in new listeners.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fandango June 20, 2021 / 7:58 am

        And isn’t that the whole point…to have people listen to your music?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. newepicauthor June 20, 2021 / 7:27 am

    I always liked this song because it has such a great beat, but I never knew anything about it and actually Nick Lowe is kind of a mystery to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marleen June 20, 2021 / 12:28 pm

    Margaret (or Peggy) Atwood said, “I never thought that I would be a popular writer. I only wanted to be a good one.”

    [According to Phoebe — agent (in A Word After a Word After a Word)]

    There’s some cruel stuff in there (her writing); I wonder, has anyone written music based on her work?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. aisasami June 27, 2021 / 3:57 pm

    “Cruel To Be Kind” is a nice song, love the acoustic guitar in it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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