For an album of greatest hits Tom Petty wrote yet another greatest hit.
For his 1993 album Greatest Hits Tom Petty was asked to record two new songs. The album already included 16 of his best songs from the previous 17 years, but MCA wanted a few bonus songs (as was the style at the time, to include some bonus material on compilation albums). Petty was not interested in having to record new material so he dug around through some old song ideas. Producer Rick Rubin picked a fragment of a song that had a good riff and potential to be a good song.
Petty took the riff he created 5-ish years earlier, and wrote Mary Jane’s Last Dance. The song was a hit and peaked around #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. So, when pressured to write a new song for an album full of his greatest hits, Tom Petty wrote a song that itself became another one of his greatest hits.
Kim Basinger, dead woman
A driver of the song’s commercial success was the accompanying music video. The video (which has nothing to do with the lyrics) has Petty playing a morgue assistant who becomes infatuated with a beautiful dead woman (played by Kim Basinger). He takes her home, he tries to dance with her, he props her up at the dinner table, but eventually he release her body into the waves of the ocean.
Talent to Spare
It’s hard enough to write one hit song let alone a hit song to accompany your other hit songs. While Petty may have written the song under duress, it’s a testament to his talent that he still wrote one of his best songs. Regarding Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Petty later said “I complained about that [song] so much … I’m really glad I did it now.”