As the 30th anniversary of Poison’s sole chart-topping single “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” approaches, frontman Bret Michaels looks back at one of the 1980’s most enduring power ballads. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was originally released on May 3rd, 1988 on Poison’s second album, Open Up And Say. . . Ahh!, and was written by Michaels, C.C. DeVille, Bobby Dall, and Rikki Rockett. The tune was the third single pulled off the album, following “Nothin’ But A Good Time,” which peaked at Number Six and “Fallen Angel,” which topped out at Number 12.
Bret Michaels recalled that outside of the band, there was a somewhat cool and mixed reaction to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” telling Billboard, “There was not a lot of love for the song, because it was very different sounding from what was happening at that moment. We had hits with ‘Talk Dirty To Me,’ ‘I Want Action,’ and although ‘I Won’t Forget You’ from (Look What The) Cat Dragged In did good, that wasn’t. . if the label had its. . . when I say label, Capitol/EMI pushed (‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’) back till the third single on Open Up And Say. . . Ahh! and I’m not even sure they were gonna do that, because the first two exploded the record to over like three million, and then in their eyes, they’re like, ‘That’s a success.’ And I’m like, ‘No, this song means the world to me.'”
Michaels remembered it being the moment that Poison was catapulted into a different class of hitmaker: “When it exploded like that, it crossed over into Top 40 country; it crossed over into Top 40 pop. Y’know what I mean? Like real pop radio at the time, which at those times was Madonna, George Michael, Prince. That’s who you were going up against. And all of a sudden, it was a Number One song at pop radio, and at rock radio, and it crossed over into Top 40 country. And so you definitely felt — it wasn’t a shift, let’s call it an addition to the fan base. There was a massive addition of people who became interested in Poison, interested in going to see the concert.”
Bret Michaels admitted that it’s the ballads that really force him to dig deep and reveal what he’s made of as a songwriter: “The toughest songs to write are good-time party songs. And let me explain that. People are always like, ‘Oh man, ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time,’ that must have been an easy song to write.’ It’s not an easy song, because when you’re partying and having a good time, there’s no emotion in you that says, ‘Let’s sit down right now and write a song.’ But you have something break your heart, you have a best friend like ‘Something To Believe In,’ one of your best friends that you saw their face every day for years and years and years, die instantly over Christmas. . . what I’m saying to you is those moments are the toughest moments in your life, but oddly enough, the most defined songs and easier songs to write because you have an exact emotion. . . I’ve probably got 10 pages of lyrics, but I tried to then go back and capture the story so that it didn’t become a 28-minute song.”
After playing “Every Rose. . . ” onstage every night for three decades, Michaels was asked how he feels about his only Number One hit to date, and said, “I honestly love playing it live. It’s still, to me, it’s not just good for me, but it’s — the fans love singing it. If you go back and look even now, you go back to the arenas or amphitheaters and listen, everyone’s singing the song. And for each person it’s probably meant something different. But for me, to be able to go out there and sing it and still do it this many years later is an amazing feeling. I still get chill-bumps on my arms doing that and knowing it’s withstood the test of time.”
Bret Michaels has long maintained that although Poison might not be deemed “high art” by the rock press establishment, that doesn’t mean that their music doesn’t matter in a big way for a lot of people: “We don’t always know what we’re doing, we just do it with conviction. (Laughs) And somehow originality comes from that, y’know? And writing what I think are really, really strong songs both musically but mostly lyrically, like ‘Something To Believe In”‘ or ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn.’ They hit people’s soul.”