Tom Petty – Mary Jane’s Last Dance

I like the rawness of the song and the lyrics are fun. Tom was making his second solo album Wildflowers but the record company wanted a couple of tracks to go on the greatest hits album. Mary Jane’s Last Dance is one of  Tom’s most successful songs. This would be the last song Stan Lynch played drums on for the Heartbreakers.

To tell you the truth…I always thought the title was Last Dance of Mary Jane.

Petty made some strange videos, and this was no exception. Tom played a mortician who takes home a corpse played by Kim Basinger. When he gets her home, he puts her in a wedding dress and dances with her. Then he puts her in a pickup truck and throws her into the ocean, and she opens her eyes as she sinks. It won Best Male Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The song was released as part of the band’s 1993 Greatest Hits compilation The song peaked at #14 in the Billboard 100, #5 in Canada, and #52 in the UK in 1994.

Kim Bassinger: Now that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was classic, wasn’t it? He was a doll, and he was so sweet and asked me to do it, and both of us are extremely shy so we just said three words to each other the whole time. I’ll never forget how heavy that dress was! And I had to be dead the whole time. You know, it’s really one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, because I had to be completely weightless to be in his arms the way I was. It won all those awards, and the kids love it even today!

Mike Campbell : “That song took on a few shapes. It was written in my garage. I didn’t write it, but we were jamming in the garage and Tom was playing one of my guitars. It was called ‘Indiana Girl,’ the first chorus was ‘Hey, Indiana Girl, go out and find the world.’ We liked the song and Rick Rubin suggested we cut it. It had actually been around for a while, just the basic riff and that chorus. We cut the song and Tom was singing the chorus, and he decided he just couldn’t get behind singing about ‘Hey, Indiana Girl,’ so we went back and about a week later he came in and said ‘I’ve got a better idea,’ so he changed the chorus to ‘Last dance with Mary Jane.’ In the verse there is still the thing about an Indiana girl on an Indiana night, just when it gets to the chorus he had the presence of mind to give it a deeper meaning.”


Petty has not said what this is about, but there are two common interpretations. It could be about Petty’s divorce from his wife Jane, which happened a year before this was recorded. Another possibility is that it is about marijuana, as “Mary Jane” is slang for pot and the lyrics refer to killing the pain, which the drug is known for. Campbell offered this explanation: “My take on it is it can be whatever you want it to be. A lot of people think it’s a drug reference, and if that’s what you want to think, it very well could be, but it could also just be a goodbye love song.”

The clip was directed by Keir McFarlane, who later did Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.” If Petty seems strangely comfortable in the role of mortician, it might be because he used to be a gravedigger.

Basinger was not the first choice for the video. Petty wanted Sharon Stone, but she didn’t answer his request. Petty wanted a raving beauty to play the corpse so it would make sense why his character keeps her around.

Petty played the guitar solo at the end after Campbell persuaded him to do it. Mike is known as an outstanding guitarist, but he thought Tom had a good sound going, so he told him to play a fuzzy sort of guitar solo. Says Mike, “He actually played a nice little bit at the end of that.”

Campbell: “An interesting thing about that record, the same day we did the last overdubs, that guitar and a few little bits, we did a rough mix here at my house, just did it by hand. Then we went to 3 or 4 different studios over the next couple of weeks and tried to do a proper mix, and we could never beat that rough mix, so that was the mix we put out. It’s an interesting track, it’s very inaccurate, it’s kind of greasy and loose. That day we just gelled and every time we mixed it we could clean up the sound and make it more posh, but it just didn’t have the juice that one mix had.” (Read more in our interview with Mike Campbell.)

In 2006, The Red Hot Chili Peppers released “Dani California,” which sounded very similar to this and was also produced by Rick Rubin. Petty showed no interest in suing the band, as they felt it was not malicious. The first eight bars of both songs sound similar, but the chords are different. In this song, the chords are “Am, G, D, Am” and in “Dani California,” the chords are “Am, G, Dm, Am.” Both of these chord progressions are very common in rock music. >>

Petty told Mojo magazine January 2010 that Mary Jane is the same character as the female in “American Girl,” “with a few hard knocks.

Mary Jane’s Last Dance

She grew up in an Indiana town
Had a good lookin’ momma who never was around
But she grew up tall and she grew up right
With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

Well she moved down here at the age of eighteen
She blew the boys away, it was more than they’d seen
I was introduced and we both started groovin’
She said, “I dig you baby but I got to keep movin’…on, keep movin’ on”

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m
Tired of this town again

Well I don’t know what I’ve been told
You never slow down, you never grow old
I’m tired of screwing up, I’m tired of goin’ down
I’m tired of myself, I’m tired of this town
Oh my my, oh hell yes
Honey put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song,
Take me as I come ’cause I can’t stay long

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m
Tired of this town again

There’s pigeons down in Market Square
She’s standin’ in her underwear
Lookin’ down from a hotel room
Nightfall will be comin’ soon
Oh my my, oh hell yes
You’ve got to put on that party dress
It was too cold to cry when I woke up alone
I hit the last number, I walked to the road

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m
Tired of this town again


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

9 thoughts on “Tom Petty – Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

  1. I’d forgotten about the video, it was a bit weird. Still, the song is right up there with his very best in my opinion. On my screen here, these comments are showing up below suggestions for more of your blogs and one is Sheryl Crow’s ‘If it makes you Happy’, which made me think, man, those two should’ve done a record together. Petty & Crow, bet they would have made some fine singles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would have been a fun match with those two. During the nineties it would have been great to see what they could have came up with.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That video is a downer… Kim looked really good. She said it was one of the hardest roles she played…I can see that would be hard.


    1. Isn’t it creepy as hell? I don’t know what inspired that…Tom was a gravedigger though in real life before he made it but still….The song is great.

      Liked by 1 person

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