June 17, 2013 in Tips & Lessons

Tom Petty – Mary Jane’s Last Dance

pettyRecorded on July 22, 1993 while Tom Petty was recording his Wildflowers album, Mary Jane’s Last Dance spiked a bit of controversy as many thought that the song was about drugs, mostly because of the chorus saying “Last dance with Mary Jane, one more time to kill the pain.” “Mary Jane” is a common nickname for marijuana, which is known to altering the state of mind of those who use it, numbing both physical and mental pain.

On the other hand, Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell says, “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. 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.”

Petty, who wrote the song, has not said what Mary Jane’s Last Dance was about, but another famous interpretation of the song links it to Petty’s divorce from his wife Jane, which happened a year before the song was recorded.

Campbell has discussed how the song came together: “The 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.'” Campbell says that they liked the song but their producer, Rick Rubin, suggested they cut it. They cut the song and a week later, Petty came in and changed the chorus to “Last Dance with Mary Jane.”

Music Video

Tom Petty was already known for making strange music videos. The video for Mary Jane’s Last Dance was no exception. In the video, Petty plays a mortician who takes home a corpse, played by Kim Bassinger. He dresses the corpse in a wedding dress and dances with her in a room full of candles. Afterwards, he puts her in a pickup truck, then carries her to a rocky shore and throws her into the ocean. In the ocean, her eyes open as she sinks.

The video won Best Male Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1994.

How To Play It

The intro and verse have a very simple chord progression of Am, G, D, Am. There is nothing complicated about it, however the style is a little more tricky to pick up. He uses quite a few hammer-ons to get that funky feel. That riff is basically everything there is to the song except for the chorus.

The chorus is actually even easier. It is simply an Em chord followed by an Asus2 chord. Basically, you just play and Em and then move both fingers up one string to get to the Asus2. In the video below, he demonstrates some interesting harmonies that you can experiment with instead of the Asus2.

The video below also demonstrates one of the sweet licks that Mike Campbell plays towards the end of the song. While these extras aren’t incredibly difficult, they aren’t necessary to get through the song either. Learn them if you like, but don’t let them intimidate you.

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