Why Tom Petty’s Band Initially Hated ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’
Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell recalled the lyrical evolution of 1993's "Mary Jane's Last Dance," noting that the band "hated" Tom Petty's early draft.
"What’s funny is that when Tom wrote this song, when he first showed it to me, the chorus was, 'Hey, Indiana girl, go out and find the world,'" he told Vulture. "It was a completely different chorus, and we all hated it. A few days later Tom came in and sang, 'Last dance for [sic] Mary Jane.'"
Campbell deemed the track, which appeared on their Greatest Hits LP, the "most misunderstood" in their catalog, given the multiple interpretations of the title phrase.
"Most songs tend to morph and grow when you go through life," he reflected. "Some people interpret it as a dance, and others interpret it as [about] marijuana. … I love that it can be interpreted in many different ways by the listener."
Petty wrote the foundation of "Mary Jane's Last Dance" around the time of his debut solo LP, 1989's Full Moon Fever. But as Campbell seemed to allude, the frontman labored to complete the lyrics.
"I really struggled with the words right up to the last minute," Petty told Paul Zollo in the 2005 book Conversations With Tom Petty. "I was actually doing the vocal, and I was still sitting there, going, 'No, wait,' and then I'd sit down and write, and kept polishing. To where I was almost confused, by the time I was finished, and hoping it was right."
Campbell, a current member of Fleetwood Mac, offered more songwriting superlatives in the Vulture piece, including the solo Petty song he wishes the Heartbreakers had recorded ("Runnin' Down a Dream," which Campbell co-wrote) and the most requested song he's tired of performing ("Free Fallin'").
"I most recently did ['Free Fallin''] on the Fleetwood Mac tour every night to honor Tom, and, of course, I played it at pretty much every concert for 30 years," he said. "I love it, but I’m sick of playing it. I wish people would request something else, but I realize it’s a very popular song."