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The Meaning of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”

The biggest hit from the hair metal band Poison is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. Released in 1988 as the third single from the band’s second album, Open Up and Say… Ahh!, the track is one of the classic lighter-swaying heartbreak anthems — so catchy and relatable that it found its way to the top of the Billboard charts around Christmastime 1988, becoming the only number one hit in the band’s career.

Written by frontman Bret Michaels, the song draws a juxtaposition between the beauty of a rose, and the thorns on its stem that are liable to cut you.

In this way he presents a metaphor for life and relationships in a way that many have found relatable over the years, making “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” one of the most memorable tracks from the late 80s.

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” Origins

The song was inspired by the end of Bret’s relationship with Tracy Lewis, whom he dated from 1984 to 1987, during the early years of Poison. Both of them discussed this during a a 2009 episode of VH1’s Behind the Music series, but they seem to disagree about several facts about the end of their relationship.

Michaels claims that he called Lewis from a payphone in a Dallas laundromat, and while he spoke with her he heard a male voice in the background and discerned that she was cheating on him. He says he was devastated, went inside the laundromat and wrote the song as he waited for his clothes to dry.

Lewis, on the other hand, claims that it was in fact Michaels who was unfaithful.

Regardless, both of them agree that the song chronicles the end of their relationship, with Tracy even stating that it felt like everyone who heard the song was hearing a public piece of their heartbreak.

“The rose of it was that my music career was taking off,” Michaels explains. “The thorn was that it was costing me my relationship.”

Watch the clip in question from Behind the Music below.

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” are pretty straightforward, and once you understand the general concept of the sharp thorns on a beautiful rose, the rest is just a breakup story.

Still, we will do our due diligence with this one and offer a verse-by-verse breakdown, starting with the opening lyrics:

We both lie silently still
In the dead of the night
Although we both lie close together
We feel miles apart inside
Was it something I said or something I did?
Did my words not come out right?
Though I tried not to hurt you, though I tried
But I guess that’s why they say

First verse to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.

Here, we picture a couple lying in bed together, side-by-side but with an emotional distance that makes it seem as if they are far apart.

Michaels wonders if he could have done something differently to change the way things are, but ultimately concludes that…

Every rose has its thorn
Just like every night has its dawn
Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song
Every rose has its thorn, yeah, it does

Chorus to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.

The chorus presents the song’s central metaphor as a simple fact — roses have thorns and night turns into day. These things are inevitable, and it represents the idea that all beautiful things have the ability to hurt you, or have a painful, dark flip-side.

Then, he brings in a reference to cowboys and the trope of them singing sad songs of loneliness. It brings to mind the Ed and Patsy Bruce song, popularized by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in 1978, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”.

Up next, the second verse brings even more feelings surrounding the failed relationship:

I listen to our favorite song
Playing on the radio
Hear the DJ say, “Love’s a game of easy come
And easy go”
But I wonder, does he know?
Has he ever felt like this?
And I know that you’d be here right now
If I could have let you know somehow, I guess

Second verse to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.

Michaels hears a song that he and his lover once shared as their favorite, and the memories come flooding back to him again. He questions the DJ’s choice of words, claiming love comes and goes easily, assuming that he has never felt the way Bret feels if he’s able to say that.

Again, Bret laments having not done something to keep his lover around, and considers that perhaps he didn’t express his love as clearly as he should have while he had the chance.

Next we have is another chorus, followed by the bridge:

Though it’s been a while now
I can still feel so much pain
Like a knife that cuts you, the wound heals
But the scar, that scar remains

Bridge to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.

Time has passed, but Michaels still feels pain from the breakup. While the initial wound of the breakup may have healed, the scar remains as a permanent reminder of the love he’s lost.

The third and final verse follows, with Michaels again asserting that he could have changed things:

I know I could have saved a love that night
If I’d known what to say
Instead of making love
We both made our separate ways
And now I hear you found somebody new
And that I never meant that much to you
To hear that tears me up inside
And to see you cuts me like a knife, I guess

Third verse to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.

If only he knew the right words, he could have saved their love on the fateful night when things fell apart. Then, instead of breaking up, they’d still be making sweet love.

He hears that she found a new love, and discerns that he probably didn’t mean that much to her after all. It kills him to hear that, and whenever he sees her, he feels the pain of the breakup like a knife in his side.

The song ends with one final, belting chorus, and we can feel all the feels right along with this glam metal legend. Watch the music video for “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison below.

Also check out the Miley Cyrus cover version of the song from 2010, which adds a pop twist from that era to the track. This was released on her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed.

Miley Cyrus – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”