Hoyt Axton wrote this for an animated TV special called The Happy Song that never materialized. Axton, who was a popular country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, pitched it to the group while he opened for them on a tour. Three Dog Night also had a Top 10 hit with "Never Been to Spain," which was also written by Axton.
The opening lines of this song, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine," are part of some wonderful song meaning speculation. A common interpretation is that Axton's bullfrog is the prophet Jeremiah from the Bible, and we've seen at least one sermon that makes the case that the song represents God's desire to unite all people in happiness (the bullfrog, with his distinctive call that stands out in nature, is God's voice in this interpretation).
There's also a case for John Jeremiah, the keyboardist for the '70s rock group Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah, who are best known for their song "Lake Shore Drive."
Axton, however, told a different story about the famous lyric. With the chorus and melody already written, he added some placeholder lyrics where he intended to write proper verses. What came out of his mouth was that famous first line. Axton explained in the Oregon News-Review: "Jeremiah was an expedient of the time. I had the chorus for three months. I took a drink of wine, leaned on the speaker, and said 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog.' It was meaningless. It was a temporary lyric. Before I could rewrite it, they cut it and it was a hit."
So it was that these nonsense placeholder lyrics became part of rock history. Religious interpretations rarely take into account that Axton was more of a hell-raiser than a student of the Bible: He was a heavy drinker and pot smoker with a passion for fast cars, women and motorcycles. By the time he wrote "Joy to the World," he was twice divorced with hundreds of speeding tickets on his record.
The group didn't think much of this song when they recorded it, tacking it on to the album because they needed one more song to complete it. The song ended up being a massive hit and stayed six weeks at #1 on the US Hot 100.
For the story of how this song became a runaway hit, we found the DJ who was the first to play it. The Naturally album was released in November 1970, and the first single to chart from the album was "One Man Band," which peaked at #19 US in December. "Joy To The World" was a lowly album cut, until Larry Bergman brought it to life in Seattle.
Larry told us: "I was the DJ who first played 'Joy To The World' on the radio that caused it to start its journey to #1. I was working at radio station KISW-FM at the time. It was the sister station to the number one radio station in Seattle, KJR-AM. That was when AMs were more popular than FMs. My job was to select odd cuts from albums by popular artists, not necessarily their hits, and record them on tape for on-air use.
I remember I needed to find one more song to fill a tape I was producing and came across Joy To The World. It was on the second side, last cut on their Naturally album. I put it on the tape and played it on the air. Within the hour the KJR DJ (Gary Shannon) came running over from the AM side and asked where I got that song. 'People were calling,' he said.
I told him and he had me record it on to another tape for him. He took it and played it on KJR and within a few weeks it went to #1 in Seattle. It wasn't long after that the song reached #1 on Billboard. The station got a gold record for it and Three Dog Night came to Seattle to launch their next album."
Three Dog Night got their band name from an old Australian Aborigine saying they heard. If it was cold at night, you slept with your dogs for warmth. The next day you might tell a friend, "Man, it was a three dog night last night." This led a lot of people to believe that the group was Australian, but they were based in California.
The band used three different lead vocalists: Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells. This one was sung by Negron.
Hoyt Axton's mother Mae Axton co-wrote the Elvis hit "Heartbreak Hotel." When "Joy To The World" topped the charts, the Axtons became the only mother-son team to each be credited with writing a #1 record.
This song garnered renewed attention when it was featured on the soundtrack to the 1983 film The Big Chill.
Thanks to the opening line in this song, frogs became a big part of the band's marketing. Frogs adorned their press kits and some clothing items, and they even had a 6-foot frog suit that some poor guy had to wear to promote the band.
In 1979, Hoyt Axton started a record label called "Jeremiah," which was named after the character in this song.
Cindy from KansasI was in the third grade when Joy to the world was released. That December we tricked our teacher into letting us play it in class. One of the students brought the 45 to class and asked the teacher "can we play, Joy to the World" The teacher said "oh I love that song" Of course she was thinking of the Christmas song, but we all knew what record our classmate had. You can imagine how pissed the teacher was when Cathy put on the record and Three Dog Night starts playing!!
Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm Jimmy Greenspoon, keyboardist with Three Dog Night, lost his battle to brain cancer Wednesday (March 11th, 2015) at his home in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was 67. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Beverly Hills, Jimmy attended the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and played in several groups on Sunset Strip before hooking up with Danny Hutton and helping to form the 7-member group. He played on eleven top ten records, including the #1 hits "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" in 1970, "Joy To The World" (1971) and "Black & White" (1972) before the group disbanded in 1976. They re-formed in 1981 but Jimmy was forced into drug rehab four years later. His autobiography chronicling his downfall, "One Is The Loneliest Number," was published in 1991. He was given a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2000... May he R.I.P.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxWho'da thought that a bullfrog could be a prophet?
Megan from Stevenson, AlTHIS SONG IS AMAZING!!!!! Sounds really good on the trumpet you guys!!! lol
Barry from Sauquoit, NyMember Danny Hutton released a solo record in 1965; it was tited "ROSES AND RAINBOWS", it peaked at #73...
Rick from Belfast, MeI remember my cousin playing this 45 record again and again and again until the grooves on the recore were smoother than a worn out tire on a NASCAR racing car....LOL....great song....but I personally like Mama Told Me Not To Come better...
Ray from Lodi, NjI always thought that Jeramiah the bullfrog was supposed to be a hallucination the guy had when he got wasted! lol guess not.
Richard from Pittsburgh, Pato mike in buffalo(sorry to hear that)ccr version good but prefer 3dn this coming from big ccr fan
Ken from Louisville, KyThis was Billboard's #1 song of 1971, and one of thye biggest selling songs of the 1970's.
Rachel from Minneapolis, MnI love this song!!!!
Darren from Lake Geneva, WiI need to correct Pokey's song fact about their name. Three dog night is actually an Australian term. Yes it is about the temp. outside, but it refers to the colder it is, more dogs huddle together for warmth. Colder than a three dog night. This is what the band took their name from.
Mark from Byrdstown, TnThe bullfrog in old blues songs generally is a symbol for bad times or hard luck,that type of thing.Is that what it means here? Who knows? I think we tend to over analyze songs sometimes, especially those written sort of off the cuff by someone who is drunk or otherwise not straight at the time.'Joy To The World' is a great song and one of the best sing-a-long songs ever.So what if this is someones favorite TDN song? Good for them.
N.i. from Baltimore, MdI've long wondered about the line, "I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the war," since if you listen closely it almost sounds like he's saying "...the bars and the whores." I know this came out in the Vietnam Era, but I suspect there was an intended double meaning here, since this entire verse makes more sense if you substitute "whores." (Not that the song makes much sense overall, but you get my gist.)
Quin from Alpine, UtNot really one of my favorite songs-kind of cheesy for my taste but still a great song
David from Youngstown, OhThe band hated this song when they first heard it, and wondered WTF Jeremiah was a bullfrog had to do with anything, according to the autobiography of Jimmy Greenspoon, TDN's keyboardist. The band buried the song in the middle of the second side and only released it after its management urged them to do so, according to Greenspoon's book. I love TDN and can live with this (overplayed and overrated) song. What's too bad is this was a great band and when you ask people to name their favorite TDN song, they typically say, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," like they know what they're talking about.
Millerman from Dacusville, ScThree Dog Night had a habit of remixing songs as they were released as singles. "Joy To The World" without the guitar solo was from the album, "Naturally" (1971) and the version with the solo was the single. Fortunately, (and to answer John's question) in 1993 MCA Records released a 2 disc compilation called "The Three Dog Night Story 1965-1975" It has the single versions of all their greatest hits, FYI "Joy To The World" was far from the only TDN song that saw an alternate and/or remixed version as a single. To Dennis in Anchorage, I'm sorry you had to plunk down a lot of money for a "pricey" box set.
Dennis from Anchorage, AkI loved this song as a kid, but when the "Big Chill" used it, they used a different recording which, for some reason, mixed out the guitar solo in the instrumental break. That version became the one that was available on Greatest Hits collections and such and I was always a little sad about it. A couple of years ago I bought a CD collection of 70's songs called "Have a Nice Decade" and it included the original hit version with the guitar solo in it. Very happy surprise for me. It's a pricey box set, but I'm glad to report that that version is still available. By the way, Hoyt Axton appears in the movie "Gremlins."
Bob from Shadow Hills, CaThough I see the quote from Hyot Axton that the "Jeremiah" line was a throw away line, I had heard on an interview that a "Bullfrog" is a New Orleans term for a drunk.
Dirk from Nashville, TnThere was a magical time that occurred between 1969 and 1971. There were some mind-bendingly good bands that emerged. And there were also some whimpy bands. And sometimes you just couldn't tell. Three Dog Night seemed to be really, really good. But it was hard to decide. They had guys who were a little too pretty out front singing. But the band really played like dynamite.... So you could never be totally sure--are these guys fluffy teenie-boppers? Or are they serious rockers? Mostly, their early songs leaned toward the serious rocking. Eli's Coming. One Man Band. Liar... There were several excellent records.... And then they put out this stupid little song, Joy to the World. The sound of them dropping out of "serious rocker" status and into "fluffy teenie-bopper" status sounded like a bomb falling. After this song came out, there was no more argument. Sadly, no matter how good their stuff was that came after, they were always just "that band that sang Joy to the World." ...Let that be a lesson to the rest of you aspiring rockers out there. Avoid the stupid songs.
Allan from Vanderhoof, CanadaHad a chance to interview Hoyt Axton at a country music festival some years ago. He said the first line, Jeremiah was a bullfrong, was never really intended to be in the song. He just came up with it to fill the line and get to the rest of the song. He never had a chance to rewrite it before the song became a hit.
Deo from Annandale, VaThis song always makes me feel soo happy...
David from Atlanta, GaAxton was a heavyweight boxing champ for the Navy.
Leon from Waterbury, CtGreat song to sing-a-long to with your friends.
Ken from Louisville, KyI believe the "single" version on the song used studio musicians, while the "album" version used 3DN's touring band. The group decided to use their touring band instead of studio musicians for their "Harmony" album, but the single had already been recorded.
Ken from Louisville, KyHoyt Axton said that when he first heard the song, he wasn't happy with the arraingment TDN used - it was completely different that one one he had on his demo version. But he said that when the songwriting royalty checks started to arrive, he LOVED the arraingment!
Jude from Thomasville, GaI also have happy memories of singing this song with my dad and brothers. There may even be an old cassette with the four of us belting this out. Not something I would WANT anyone else to hear, mind you, but I think if it turns up, I will give it to my nephew.
Ash from Charleston, WvThere's a scene in the 80's movie "Amazon Women On the Moon" in which Don "No-Soul" Simmons (played by David Alan Grier) sings the opening line of this song. If you're a fan of that movie, you're probably like me and you think of that scene every time you hear this song. Very funny stuff.
Mike from Buffalo, NyI've heard many people refer to this song by Creedence Clearwater Revival....did they ever cover this song?
Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaIn the 1990's, former Three Dog Night lead singer Chuck Negron released a version of the Christmas classic "Joy to the World" which included a few lines from this song - even "Jeremiah was a bullfrog"!
Scott from St. Louis, MoUsed in "The Big Chill". It plays over the end credits.
John from San Francisco, CaAnyone want to tell me why the air play version of this song was replaced with a less interesting version on the album? I know it's different because i used to have the 45. My next question is, has the original ever been released on a compilation release since the 70's?
Dave from Cardiff, WalesNo relation to the popular Christmas song, "Joy To The World" was a US No.1, but failed to repeat the success of "Mama Told Me Not To Come" in the UK.
Mandy from N/a, MaI really love this song, my father used to sing it to me when I was little. It was sung by Scully, in "Detour" (The X-Files), to help Mulder stay awake.