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."
According to Rikki Rockett, Poison's drummer, the record label was hesitant to release this pop-leaning song because it didn't fit the rock image they had for the band. "But we had played it live a few times and it had already connected with people. So, we told them it's a ballad," he told AXS
. "We wrote it. It's us and it's a great song. We wound up getting our way."
This was used at the end of the Schitt's Creek episode "Rock On!" (2019). It plays when the Jazzagals are on their way back from a casino where Poison was supposed to perform.
It was also used on these TV series:
Revolution ("Happy Endings" – 2014)
Glee ("Audition" – 2010), sung by Chord Overstreet
Supernatural ("Malleus Maleficarum" – 2008)
South Park ("Guitar Queer-o" – 2007)
The O.C. ("Rager" – 2005)
Cold Case ("Maternal Instincts" – 2004)
And in these movies:
Rock Of Ages (2012)
Cop Out (2010)
500 Days Of Summer (2009)
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005)