There are so many small pleasures in this song that grab me. The first time the hook comes in and you hear these amazing voices in harmony. The depth and power of Gerald Levert and Christopher Williams ("it _taint_easayyyy"). The stunning clear tones of Joe and Brian McKnight. The absolutely devastingly beautiful performance of R. Kelly, who takes that moment – "woo hoo" – to let the message sink in.
But it's Raphael Saadiq and McKnight who choke me up every single time:
And then I got stronger And tired of the pain That’s when I picked up the pieces And I regained my name
I love the vulnerability of the couplet- "That's when I picked up the pieces/And I regained my name." It's the heart of the song for me. It's the moment that the song reveals itself to be more than an anthem. It's empathy for black male brokenness makes the whole thing work so that when you hear "you must act like a man" it doesn't feel like judgment. It's recognition. And I regained my name.
The song is hopeful of course, but that undercurrent of profound sadness actually makes its anthemic qualities resonate more deeply. It's literally the struggle to be a whole, healthy black man in song.
Drove Me To Tears is the standout track on LSG’s first album because it is the one song where all three men sing the entire song alone. Too much of that album relied on gimmicks, rappers, guest stars (most notably on All The Times), and, worst of all, didn’t use Johnny Gill nearly as much as they should could have.
But here the only voices you hear are Johnny, Gerald and Keith (even on background). And – none of the men try to outsing one another.
In fact, the interplay between the three men represents the only time they actually sound like a vocal group, not three lead singers sharing a song. They also show a keen ear for what each voice sounds best singing. Keith begs in that measured nasal whine, Gerald seduces with the full-throated passion few men can achieve, and Johnny uses his perfect phrasing and tone to convey vulnerability like nobody’s business.
The song very easily could have been a power ballad. But each vocalist sings with such amazing restraint that the song is a slow burn instead of an explosion. Even Johnny’s wail at the end feels relaxed. As such, the song actually conveys some sense of helplessness, of being “driven to tears.”
Listening to this, one wishes that LSG had made better use of their odd pairing and made songs this good all the time.