If the new music video for Brett Eldredge's "Sunday Drive" makes you cry — and, rest assured, it will — then know that you're in good company.
"Oh, I bawled," Eldredge tells PEOPLE exclusively. "I bawled when I first watched it. I was drinking a smoothie, sitting in my car, watching it on my phone, and I completely lost it."
Such is the effect of this exquisite marriage of story and song, which debuts on Friday. "I've shot a lot of music videos," says the 34-year-old artist, "but nothing has ever come close to the emotion of this."
The song, the title track of Eldredge's recently released album, places the artist in the role of musical narrator, unfurling a childhood memory of piling into the backseat of the family car for a Sunday drive. But the poignant lyrics also speak to the preciousness of those lost moments and the swiftness of time: "It's the ordinary things that mean so much / That's where I learned it all, from them / To fight, to love, to laugh again."
Eldredge was intimately involved in the conceptualization of the video, which was directed by Reid Long. "I wanted to show a glimpse of a kid from the middle of nowhere in the heart of the heartland," he explains.
And, of course, there was no place better to shoot the video than Eldredge's own heartland hometown, tiny Paris, Illinois. Many of the exterior scenes were captured there, and Eldredge actually performs the song, seated at an upright piano, in the middle of One O'Clock Road, a country lane he traveled up and down as a kid.
The black-and-white video intercuts Eldredge's screen time with the story acted out by a cast spanning three generations. Viewers will see a family of four on a long-ago drive — the time period telegraphed by a 1971 Ford Country Squire station wagon. The car then reappears in a sequence that fast-forwards to a more modern era.
For Eldredge, the vehicle choice was key. "I told them, I don't care what we do here, but can we have a station wagon?" he says, recalling production conversations. "I've just seen it in my mind a million times. My grandfather had a station wagon growing up, and I remember riding in the back, so I wanted one in the video."
Though Eldredge's family took drives, the boy in the video really wasn't intended to mimic Eldredge's childhood. "I wanted to narrate it more than just make it exactly specific to my life," he says. "But I do see myself through the eyes of this kid."
In fact, the song itself isn't Eldredge's autobiography: it's the only track on the album that he didn't co-write. Still, he owns a remarkable history with the song, waiting more than a decade to record it.
Eldredge explains that he discovered it as a college intern for a Nashville music publisher, tasked with the tedious chore of transferring CD recordings of demos to a digital format. "So I was listening to just song after song, and you get almost numb," he recalls. And then he heard one that "completely stopped me in my tracks."
"Sunday Drive" was written by Barry Dean, Don Mescall and Steve Robson, inspired by Dean's experiences growing up in the 1970s in Pittsburg, Kansas. Listening to it, says Eldredge, "I didn't even know I had these emotions. You don't even think about that stuff when you're in your early twenties. You're just like trying to take over the world, and you don't really pay attention to all those emotions. Well, I found those emotions in this song."
Though untested and undiscovered as an artist, Eldredge knew at that moment that he wanted to record it. He also had the good sense to know he was far too unseasoned to sing the song, which had been written by someone almost 20 years older.
"I could already tap into that feeling, but I hadn't lived enough yet at that point," he says. "I recognized that." Still, he says, "I felt like this song was written for me."
Indeed, the song waited for him, remaining unreleased by any other artist as Eldredge built his platinum-selling career. The song's moment finally arrived when he set about to make his fourth album. Determined for the record to be a departure from his previous three, he set a goal to fill it with songs of "rawness and realness." "Sunday Drive" easily hit the mark, and Eldredge finally felt ready to sing it.
"It also became the album title, and the whole heart and soul of this very vulnerable album," he says.
When the time came to record the song, he grappled with its power. "[Producer] Ian Fitchuk was playing the piano, and I was in the booth singing, and I got to the third verse and I completely lost it," Eldredge recalls. "I had to step away from the microphone, but it was the most magical pass I'd ever gone through up to that point — and even more so after, because Ian kept playing to that emotion."
Barry Dean also broke down when he finally heard the track, Eldredge reports. "He was very emotional about it," the singer says about the man who has become a frequent songwriting partner over the years. "I can't tell you how many texts I've gotten from him about just how grateful he is that I recorded it. And I'm like, are you kidding me, man? This is like a dream to be able to record this song."
Eldredge says the song's influence has now spilled into a new aspect of his life: Though the pandemic may have knocked his singing career off the road, he's been inspired to take regular destination-free drives on country roads outside of Nashville, Sunday or not.
The other day, he reports, he drifted away from cell service and genuinely got lost for a while. "And I'm like, you know what? I don't really care," he says. "And that's the beauty of it. I think you find a bit of yourself when you hear a song like this."