Like “You’re the Inspiration,” “Cryin’” is a shlocky ballad that, upon examination, turns out to be based upon a masterful series of seemingly strange harmonic left turns.
The intro is in the key of G minor:
The song initially feels aggressive and harsh. The Bb5 chord that ends the intro pivots without warning to the unrelated chord of A major (at 0:15).
The abrupt modulation from G minor to A major seems strange on the surface, but it helps us make sense of the song’s sudden change of mood from aggressive to mournful. (The Bb5 that precedes the A chord also feels something like a leading tone in reverse, pointing down at the A major I chord that follows it just as a leading tone points up at the tonic.) Once the modulation occurs, we have a relatively ordinary progression in A major (I-V-vi-iii-IV-I-V).
The second time through the progression is the same, but the careful listener will notice that Aerosmith changes the C# minor chord to C# major, which is the V/vi (0:33). We expect the V/vi to resolve to vi, of course, but Aerosmith instead chooses to head to IV in an irregular resolution.
The prechorus introduces another abrupt modulation, this time to the key of G (0:42).
The E major chord that ends the prechorus enables Aerosmith to transition back to the key of A major for the chorus, since E is the V of that key. From there, we have a simple I-V-vi-IV-I-V-IV progression in A major; as with “You’re the Inspiration,” the many key changes of “Cryin’” highlight the straightforwardness of the chorus.
The D major chord that ends the chorus is the V of G minor, and Aerosmith then returns to that key to repeat a version of the intro, over which Steven Tyler now sings (“Now there’s not even breathing room / Between pleasure and pain”).
From there, the verse, prechorus and chorus repeat, following the same basic patterns as before. Then, there’s a guitar solo over the G minor intro pattern. The bridge follows in the completely new key of Eb major, with Aerosmith treating the Bb5 at the end of the intro as the V chord in Eb.
Here’s the intro progression, starting at 2:43.
And here’s the beginning of the bridge, now in Eb major:
On the last line of the bridge, Aerosmith abruptly slide up by half step from Eb to E, the V chord of A major, setting up the return of the chorus. The last two minutes of the song remain in A major throughout, mostly repeating the chorus’ chord progression.
Next chapter: Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”