Poison lead singer Bret Michaels wrote this in response to a failed love affair with his girlfriend, Tracy Lewis. After playing at a bar in Dallas, Texas, Michaels called Lewis at her Los Angeles apartment and heard a man's voice in the background. The next day the disconsolate Michaels took his acoustic guitar with him to a Laundromat and wrote the song right there. He explained in Rolling Stone June 10, 2010: "I remember using a pay phone to call this girl I was dating. We were on the road, touring in our Winnebago, and my relationship was falling apart. I still have the yellow legal pad I wrote it on. There are, like, a bazillion verses that I later edited down."
In the US, this was #1 for the last two weeks in 1988 and also for the first week of 1989.
On a VH1 Behind The Music special, Michaels explained the metaphoric meaning behind the rose and thorn in this song. He said that the rose was his career taking off, and the thorn was the fact that it was costing him his relationship with his girlfriend Tracy.
On his 2010 album Custom Built, Bret Michaels recorded a new version of this song with Brad Arnold of Three Doors Down.
Miley Cyrus covered this song on her 2010 album Can't Be Tamed and performed it on her subsequent tour.
When the song first came out, it was a Dallas country station that actually spun it first, before the rock stations picked the tune up. Michaels recalled to Billboard magazine: "This was back before anyone thought about a crossover. We had 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn' at #1 Pop, #1 Rock, and Top 40 Country, which was unheard of."