The forgotten 60-second Marine Corps. recruiting spot fades in with the familiar symphonic chorus of “MacArthur Park” – “Someone left the cake out in the rain . . .” But the voice is not that of actor Richard Harris, who sang the ubiquitous hit in 1968. It’s Waylon Jennings singing his Grammy-winning, countrified version of “MacArthur Park” with the family act The Kimberlys circa August 1969.
Found on a rare vinyl record among the hundreds in Austin record collector Doug Hanners’ archives at The Wittliff Collections, it’s an artifact of the Vietnam War era from the summer of 1970.
For some context, the shooting of unarmed college students protesting on the campus of Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard, which occurred on May 4, 1970, was still a fresh wound. Richard Nixon was president. American films were reflecting the nation’s uneasy mood with “Patton,” “M*A*S*H,” “Catch-22,” “Five Easy Pieces” and “Love Story.”
As the music fades down, Jennings breaks into his speaking voice. The friendly Texas drawl known to his fans comes with an offer. He doesn’t exactly sound like a future outlaw country renegade. “This is your old buddy, Waylon Jennings, with a message for you college men who want a career in the air,” Jenning begins as a Hammond organ gently plays in the background.
“Under a unique Marine Corps. aviation program, you can be commissioned to lieutenant of Marines at graduation without ever interrupting your college life. Sound interesting? You ask a Marine officer who visits your campus. He’ll give you all the facts.” Then, a snippet of Jennings singing a verse. “Spring was never waiting for us, girl…”
The public service spot — listed as Waylon Jennings 60 Sec Aviation Officer – is included on the rare vinyl album with other recruiting spots by Roy Clark, Glen Campbell, Tex Williams, Johnny Bond, Donna Fargo, Jody Miller, Jerry Wallace, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Archie Campbell, and Jimmy Wakely.
Discogs.com, the record collector marketplace, notes that the USMC recruitment disc was released in 1970 and likely aired from July to December 1970.
“MacArthur Park” was issued as a single on RCA Victor and credited to Waylon Jennings and The Kimberlys. Written by Jimmy Webb, this version was produced by Chet Atkins and Danny Davis and arranged by Bergen White. It appeared on Jennings’ 1969 album, “Country-Folk.”
The Kimberleys was an Oklahoma-based quartet (two brothers, Carl and Harold, who married two sisters, Vera and Verna) and a favorite of Jennings.
Jennings’ recruiting spot was in the tradition of fellow Texas native Lefty Frizzell’s participation in similar short recordings for the USMC in 1967. Frizzell made two spots that appeared on the vinyl album “Your Marine Recruiter Presents: In the Country and Western Manner.” The rare recordings, now at The Wittliff, were part of a series originally distributed to radio stations and not commercially available. Frizzell’s “Hey, fellers” persona was a twangy appeal to “college men aiming high.” The snippet of background music for both is Frizzell’s signature hit “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time),” of course.