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Jeremiah Was A... Bullfrog? Three Dog Night's Accidental Hit 'Joy To The World'

Music | November 29, 2017

Three Dog Night as pictured on the cover of the 1970 album 'Naturally.' Source: Amazon

Kicking off with the opening line "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," Three Dog Night's "Joy To The World" was a #1 hit for the band in 1971. In fact, it spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was the #1 single of the year. Three Dog Night didn't write "Joy To The World" -- that was Hoyt Axton -- and its curious line about a bullfrog named Jeremiah wasn't even intended to be committed to vinyl, much less played on radio.

The story behind the hit song, which saw a resurgence in popularity with its inclusion on the soundtrack of The Big Chill, is really quite unusual and amusing. It was an unlikely story of irony and success.

The song was written by Hoyt Axton, a country music singer, guitarist, songwriter and actor. He had established himself in the early 1960’s with his rich, smooth and powerful voice. Axton had many hit songs to his credit. "Joy to the World" was a song he wrote in anticipation of an animated television special that was to be called "The Happy Song." The television special never came to fruition, but that’s OK because he never actually finished the song!   

The song was intended for the television special to promote peace and harmony in the world. Axton had first written the chorus and melody of the song, but that was it. The other words in the song were simply “place-holder” lyrics until he was able to finish it. When the original purpose of the song evaporated, it was put on the back burner. He always intended to go back, at some point, and write the real lyrics to finish the song.  

Sleeve for Belgian release of 'Joy to the World' (1970). Source: discogs.com

Hoyt Axton found himself opening for Three Dog Night during one of their tours. He pitched the song at the group; they grabbed it up and recorded it, “as-is.” The group wasn’t thrilled with the end product but needed one more song to complete their Naturally album, so they stuck it in there to fill the track.  

The song wasn’t popular until a radio station D.J. stumbled upon it and played it on the air. Listeners went wild! The station's phone started ringing off the hook. The song had become an instant hit; spending 6 weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1971.

Following the huge hit, the band came to embrace the frog! It became a new marketing tool. Ironically, a band called Three Dog Night had become better known for frogs, then for dogs!

The song’s chorus lyrics are the only ones ever intended to be recorded. The rest of the song was filled with nonsense words that were to have been replaced with proper lyrics. Hoyt Axton was known to have enjoyed his vices, including drinking and smoking marijuana. There is speculation that the nonsense was written during one of his “happy” moments.

Over the years, there has been much speculation surrounding the meaning of the song. Some deep thinkers have theorized that there is a Biblical meaning and that the bullfrog is representative of the prophet, Jerimiah, in the Bible; or that the bullfrog is symbolic of the voice of God, speaking out to unite the world. That, however, was not the case. Axton said that while attempting to think of lyrics, he took a sip of wine, leaned on his speaker and the first line, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” was the first thing that came to mind, so he put it on paper. In a turn of fate, an incomplete song will, forever, go down in rock and roll music history!

Lyrics

Jeremiah was a bullfrog
was a good friend of mine
never understood a single word he said
but I helped him drink his wine
and he always had some mighty fine wine
(Chorus)
singin’ joy to the world
all the boys and girls
joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
joy to you and me
if I were the king of the world
I’d tell you what I’d do
I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the wars
and make sweet love to you
(Chorus)
you know I love the ladies
love to have my fun
I’m a high ridin’ flyer
and a rainbow rider
and a straight shootin’ son of a gun
I said a straight shootin’ son of a gun
(Chorus)

Tags: 1970 | Joy To The World | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The 1970s | Three Dog Night

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.