One of my favorite Bono collaborations ever comes in the form of a song that he and Edge wrote for Roy Orbison to sing back in the late 80s, “She’s a Mystery to Me.” surprisingly enough, Bono actually produced Roy’s recording of the song, and U2’s frontman even played guitar on the track! Bono has spoken in the past about the mysteries of his wife, Ali, and so I believe that the song was at least inspired by her if it isn’t about her outright.
Lyrically, the song is about a love affair where the singer is totally captivated by the mysterious aspect of the object of his affection. I get the impression that the singer is feeling a bit trapped…in the daylight, his lover is cold and uncaring, but at night she is everything he ever dreamed of. There’s even a precursor to a later U2 song in the line “If my love is blind, then I don’t want to see,” which is very nearly repeated verbatim in the U2 song “Love is Blindness” from Achtung Baby.
The lyrics to this song are great…I really enjoy them and the story that they tell, but the real magic is in the music and the melody. I simply adore the gently lulling, rising and falling guitar part that opens the song and the syncopated drums that follow. The vocal melody is also really special…so gentle as it slowly rises to its climax, where the singer hits a spectacular falsetto high note int he final chorus. Roy Orbison actually hits this high point a couple of times in his initial studio version and his angelic voice really nails the song’s peak.
You might be wondering why I am writing about this song if it was only ever performed by Roy Orbison. I mean, sure there is an obvious U2 connection, but that’s not the same thing as the band performing the song itself. Well, after the song appeared at a small handful of U2 shows throughout the 80s and 90s, Bono and Edge actually played a shortened impromptu version of “She’s a Mystery to Me” for the BBC in 2000 that is an absolute delight. As I said above, it is not the Mystery Girl’s first performance by U2, but it is my favorite airing of the song, so it is well worth checking out.
Finally, however, U2 actually released a live full-band version of the song that was recorded when U2 played their Brooklyn Bridge concert in 2004. Bono’s lived in vocal really makes this an utter treat, and it is one of my favorite moments from a day that included the filming of my favorite U2 video ever. For those U2 completists out there, there is also a demo version of Roy Orbison, Bono, and others in the studio with Bono issuing directions to the other musicians as he was producing the recording. It makes for an insightful listen and is worth your time and money to seek out.