Today I wanted to discuss a couple of U2 covers where the other artist actually got to the song before U2 did. Roy Orbison’s “She’s a Mystery to Me”, written by Bono and Edge, produced by Bono, and even featuring some simple guitar from our favorite front-man, is a perfect example. The song was originally written for Roy, and although the band have yet to release a studio recording of their version of the song, a live version from underneath the Brooklyn Bridge did make it onto the All Because of You single. If you haven’t ever heard Roy’s version, I seriously want you to stop what you’re doing right now – this article will wait – and go listen to a copy. I’ll even provide a link to the video (which is lovely in its own right, and was directed by David Fincher, of Fight Club, Se7en, and Panic Room fame) so that you don’t have any excuses for not hearing it. It’s hard for me to imagine a more heavenly ode to romantic confusion, and Roy’s angelic vocal only serves to heighten the sense of tension in Bono’s terrific lyric. It’s genuinely impossible for me to listen to the song without tearing up. Lyrics aside, the song would be a winner even if scoring strictly on instrumentation, which in this case is lush and intricate, like the layered petals of a rose. The U2 release that I mentioned above is fantastic too, but my favorite version of this song is this simple and stripped back performance from a 2000 promotional appearance at the BBC. Edge’s jangling guitar starts out hushed and solemn, building to a climax alongside Bono’s voice, which has never sounded more perfectly vulnerable. Bono’s talked before about how alluring he still finds Ali’s mysteriousness, and so it’s not hard to imagine him singing this song to (or about) his wife as he ponders the secrets that have befuddled men since the beginning of time.
The other song that got me started thinking about this particular topic for today’s column is “Thank You”, which was originally written and recorded during the band’s aborted 2006 sessions with producer Rick Rubin. Recordings, albeit poor ones, of the band working on the song have surfaced online, but the only official release of this ode to the simple goodness of life came from Danny Lanois and was released as part of a session which was recorded for the Wall to Wall Guitar Festival podcast. Danny is, of course, a wonderful guitarist even without U2, and his intimate finger picking and quiet vocals on this particular piece call to mind images of quiet sunsets, contemplated as you remember all the reasons that life really is amazing. There’s a really nice instrumental version on YouTube, but make sure that you also seek out the podcast I mentioned above, as his acoustic version beats any others, hands down."Covering U2 - The Early Birds",