On this track, Dylan and his band rock out the popular children’s tune in an accordion-driven jam, the accordion in question actually played by Los Lobos’ David Hildago. The effect is a kind of a zydeco-meets-polka, matched with an exuberant call-and-response vocal exchange.
Is a straight ahead Christmas album kind of an unexpected move from the guy who wrote “Idiot Wind”, “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35”, And “All Along The Watchtower”?
Well, maybe a little.
But, Dylan has always followed his own path, even from the earliest days of his career. And, the conception of this album and the rendering of the songs on it followed a path that Dylan has always followed anyway.
And which path is that?
Well, I’m talking about folk music, for one. What music is more sung by all walks of life, and largely learned by hearing it sung in an oral tradition than Christmas music? Where a lot of Christmas music came out of the church, or was written by Tin Pan Alley writers ( a few examples of each on this record, actually), Christmas music is, in the end, folk music. And Bob Dylan’s career owes a great deal to folk traditions, of course.
For another, there is a social justice aspect to Dylan’s project too – also a tradition which Dylan fell into when he first started writing his own songs. With songs like “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “The Chimes of Freedom”, and “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Dylan showed a keen social conscience; an awareness that the world, and his country in particular, is the home of suffering as much as it is the home of the kind of fun loving good times common to the Christmas season.
As such, this project represents a donation to Feeding America, with all initial and future royalties generated from this album (Dylan’s 34th) going toward the efforts to make sure that everyone in America is fed, especially during the season of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. Further, the record serves the same goals internationally, with donations outside of the U.S going toward Crisis in the UK, and World Food Program.
So, in many ways, Dylan was being pretty true to his origins as an artist, even if a record of straight ahead Christmas music wasn’t expected from him. And that’s another thing – Dylan has always been mercurial. This time, the mercury is wearing Santa’s hat.
Take a look at the video for Bob Dylan’s “Must Be Santa”, featuring Bob and his band is full Christmas regalia, and directed by Nat Edgerton.