Every Rose Has Its Thorn: A Tribute to the Syrupy-Sweet Sounds of ’80s Hair-Metal Ballads

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There was a time when grown men — rock stars who partied with strippers and slept with supermodels — tediously teased their hair and smudged eyeliner onto their lower lids. It was a time like no other, one that will likely never be replicated. The only thing that out-shined the glossy pouts and glittered vests were the ballads that these ‘80s hair-metal bands belted out.

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison:

Long before Bret Michaels was kicking strippers out of his house and slamming insulin on reality TV, he was somberly singing about the complicated nature of relationships. Released in 1988 on their second studio album Open Up and Say…Ahh! “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was Poison’s only number-one hit in the United States, and thus their career-defining anthem. Thanks to the single’s success, the album went 5x platinum. 

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison

Like so many other music videos at the time, the one made for “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was merely a montage of the band on tour, slowed down and set to blue — the irony of it all lost somewhere in Bret Michaels’ bandanna.

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison

The inspiration for the sorrowful song supposedly came to Bret one night after calling his girlfriend from a payphone. Upon hearing the voice of another man in the background, Michaels returned to the laundromat he was at and started writing. As his leopard vests tumble-dried on low, Michaels poured his heartache into the band’s most memorable ballad. 

"Heaven," Warrant

The late Jani Lane of Warrant wrote “Heaven” before he was even in the band. After he auditioned to be the lead singer in 1986, the song quickly became part of their set. Following some local Los Angeles success, Warrant signed to Columbia Records. 

"Heaven," Warrant

From there, the song was re-recorded, mastered, and mixed to hit as heavy as its brothering ballads. Eventually, it was released on Warrant’s 1989 debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and settled for second place on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. 

"Heaven," Warrant

The ballad’s lyrics are simple, and aside from once referring to his love interest as a “little girl,” “Heaven” is as saccharine as a song can get. The chorus, however, is where “Heaven” truly excels. The band switches from a seemingly all-acoustic melody into a crashing crescendo. It’s the quintessential wind-in-your-wispy-hair-while-you-cruise-down-the-desert-highway-at-sunset song.

"Love Bites," Def Leppard

In 1988, after “Pour Some Sugar On Me” catapulted Def Leppard to the top of the charts (#2 on the Billboard Hot 100), the band released “Love Bites” a sultry sex ballad brought to the band by producer Mutt Lange. Though Def Leppard initially dismissed the country-twinged song, they eventually agreed to its production pending the addition of “power rock elements.” The song charted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains their only single to do so.


"Love Bites," Def Leppard

Throughout the song, lead singer Joe Elliot asks his love interest a multitude of intimate questions, including, “When I'm with you are you somewhere else? Am I getting through or do you please yourself?” On the contrary, Elliot admits he can barely stand to touch his seemingly cheating lover because the threat to his sanity has grown far too great. The ballad poses a sticky predicament for Joe (no pun intended), and as he reaches the chorus  the peak of his pain the listener begins to believe, right along with Joe, that love, especially the unrequited kind, really does bite.

"Home Sweet Home," Mötley Crüe

Unlike the bulk of ballads, Mötley Crüe’s 1985 feel-good song “Home Sweet Home” isn’t about love. Instead, it’s the result of a lengthy tour for their second studio album Shout at the Devil. In a 2016 interview, Nikki Sixx recalls, “A tour bus picked us up at our little tiny apartments and we took off to go play some shows, and 18 months later we got dropped back in our little apartments.” Sixx expanded upon the recollection and reasoning behind the ballad, noting that “all you ever want is to get in a band and go on the road, but then you’re on the road and you want to come home.”

"Home Sweet Home," Mötley Crüe

When the ballad showed up on the heavy-metal band’s third studio album Theatre of Pain, the label quickly rejected it, citing that Mötley Crüe wasn’t a ballad band. The group took matters into their own hands, financing the music video themselves and later appearing on MTV. The song charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #89 and has since been covered by a multitude of artists, including Carrie Underwood. 

"Here I Go Again," Whitesnake

Whitesnake’s ballad “Here I Go Again” was initially released in 1982 on their Saints & Sinners album. The band re-released the single again in 1987 with slightly altered lyrics for their self-titled album, with the word “hobo” in the chorus changed to “drifter.” Lead singer and songwriter David Coverdale later explained that he implemented the change “because he was afraid people would think he was saying homo instead of hobo.’” Five years after its original release, the re-recorded radio version of “Here I Go Again” saw success, settling in at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

"Here I Go Again," Whitesnake

Though the ballad, much like