The song was introduced in December 1960 as an album track on A Date with The Everly Brothers, but was never released as a single (A-side or B-side) by the Everlys. The first hit version of the song was by Roy Orbison, who earned Australian radio play, hitting the Top Five of that country's singles charts in 1961. A recording by Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons was included on Parsons' posthumously released Grievous Angel album. After Parsons' 1973 death, Harris made the song a staple of her repertoire, and has included it in her concert set lists from the 1970s to the present. Harris has since re-recorded the song twice.
The most successful recording of the song was by hard rock band Nazareth, who took the song to the U.S. Top 10 in 1975 and hit number one in Norway and the Netherlands. In the UK the most successful version of the song was by former Traffic member Jim Capaldi, who took it to number four in the charts in November 1975 during an 11-week run. The song was also covered by Cher in 1975 for her album Stars. Cher re-recorded the song in 1991 for her album of the same name. Rod Stewart recorded the song in 2006 for his album Still the Same... Great Rock Classics of Our Time which was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Roy Orbison covered "Love Hurts" in 1961 and issued it as the B-side to "Running Scared". While "Running Scared" was an international hit, the B-side only picked up significant airplay in Australia. Consequently, chart figures for Australia show "Running Scared"/"Love Hurts" as a double A-Side, both sides peaking at No. 5. This makes Orbison's recording of "Love Hurts" the first version to be a hit.
Jim Capaldi reached number 4 in the UK charts with his interpretation of "Love Hurts" in November 1975, which was to prove his highest charting UK single. Described by Rolling Stone as having "a sense of pain very different from Roy Orbison's original," the single also charted in the US, Germany, and Sweden.
Performed as a rock ballad, the Nazareth version was the most popular version of the song and the only rendition of "Love Hurts" to become a hit single in the United States, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1976. Billboard ranked it as the No. 23 song for 1976. As part of the "Hot Tracks (EP)" it also reached No. 15 in the UK in 1977. Nazareth's version was an international hit, peaking at No. 1 in Canada, South Africa and Norway, and remains the best-known recording of the song. The Nazareth single was so successful in Norway that it charted for 61 weeks on the Norwegian charts (VG-lista Top 10), including 14 weeks at No. 1, making it the top single of all time in that country.
Cher also recorded the song in 1975 but did not have a hit with it at the time. She recorded a second version in 1991, which became a minor hit in the UK and a substantial hit in Norway, where the Nazareth version had enjoyed its greatest chart success a decade and a half earlier.
A live version by the duo, recorded in 1973 shortly before Parsons' death, was released in 1983 and received a Grammy Award nomination. Another live version and an alternate take recorded in 1973 were released in 2006 on The Complete Reprise Sessions.