The Strange, Spirit-Lifting Meaning Behind “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night

Three Dog Night passed on what became the band’s biggest hit. Twice. When country singer and actor Hoyt Axton initially approached the 1970s group with “Joy to the World”—a freewheelin’ tune about a wine-guzzling pond-dweller that comes caked in a warm-and-fuzzy chorus—the band didn’t take to it. After two failed pitches to co-singers Danny Hutton and Cory Wells, co-founding member Chuck Negron heard Axton’s tune and convinced the others to get on board.

Videos by American Songwriter

“It was a carefree, fun song, and those lines, ‘Joy to the world, all the boys and girls,’ … I mean, joy to everybody, even the fishes,” Negron told Forbes in 2022, adding: “That sentiment hit all the demographics, the core of America.”

So, who is this Jeremiah? And why was he a…bullfrog? Let’s get into the story behind Three Dog Night’s enduring hit “Joy to the World.”

Making of “Joy to the World”

Three Dog Night workshopped and eventually cut “Joy to the World” for the band’s fourth studio LP, Naturally, released in late 1970. Recorded at North Hollywood’s American Recording Company and produced by trusted studio man Richard Podolor, the track included seven band members contributing to the boisterous vocals.

Axton’s exuberant lyrics include:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog
Was a good friend of mine
I never understood a single word he said
But I helped him a-drink his wine
And he always had some mighty fine wine

Singin’ joy to the world
All the boys and girls now
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me

And if I were the king of the world
Tell you what I’d do
I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the war
And make sweet love to you

Axton was one-half of a rare mother-son tandem who’d each penned rock hits; his mom, Mae Axton, co-wrote Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” For this particular future hit, the younger Axton initially composed its whimsical passages and inescapable melody for a cartoon program that never aired.

That bullfrog, Jeremiah? He was on the show, Negron told Goldmine in 2021. The band briefly debated changing the lyric to “Jeremiah was a prophet,” but instead stuck with what became rock ‘n’ roll’s favorite fictional croaker.

“We didn’t think the prophet thing was very rock and roll, so we changed it back,” Negron told Forbes.

Hit status

“Joy to the World” dropped as a single in early 1971, and radio gobbled it up. It quickly became a cornerstone hit of the early ’70s, earning an RIAA gold certification weeks after hitting record store shelves.

[RELATED: Behind the Band Name: Three Dog Night]

The song climbed to No. 1 on Billboard’s coveted Hot 100 chart and cracked the top 10 on radio charts in South Africa, Australia and Canada, among others. It bowed at No. 1 on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, ahead of entries from the Bee Gees, the Osmonds, and the Rolling Stones. “Joy to the World” even made a splash at the Grammy Awards in 1972, earning nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus.

It wasn’t the only time Three Dog Night teamed with Axton; the band cut his “Never Been to Spain,” which joined songs like “One,” “Liar,” “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” “Easy to Be Hard,” and quite a few others as Top 10 hits.

But “Joy to the World” remains the best-known hit from Three Dog Night. And while it may still sound a little silly to some rockers’ ears, the song lives on through classic rock radio and curated Spotify playlists, giving listeners endless opportunities to hit ‘play’ on that unforgettable opening line.

Photo by Jim McCrary/Redferns

Leave a Reply

John Moreland

John Moreland Previews New Live Album with “Dim Little Light”