Bob Dylan Rips Off Santa

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Bob Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” is a note-for- note , word-for-word rip-off of the Brave Combo version

Bob Dylan has been stealing songs and putting his copyright on them for 50 years. But what could be worse than stealing a children’s Christmas song?

When Bob Dylan released ”Christmas in the Heart” in October 2009, he included a song lifted without attribution from a Texas polka band.

What parent hasn’t heard “Must Be Santa” sung at the Christmas Pageant? Too many times maybe.

Brave Combo, a Texas polka party band, updated the original lyrics to “Must Be Santa” with some sly references to former US Presidents like Nixon for Blixen. And Bob Dylan stole their Santa.


Brave Combo “Must Be Santa” the version Dylan copied

Brave Combo had performed the  song for years. They updated the  Must Be Santa video on December 15, 2008.

“Must Be Santa” party video of Brave Combo at the 2009 Soulard Oktoberfest 2009

The first time I saw the bob Dylan video for “Must Be Santa” it looked a too wicked for a Christmas Party. Now I’m no saint but that party was more like a Bacchanal . It dawned on me: Dylan stole the Oktoberfest party atmosphere from Brave Combo video as well.

Brave Combo rocking polka version of “Must Be Santa” at Oktoberfest

Dylan’s arrangement is note-for-note, beat-for-beat. It’s the same song and sounds identical to the Brave Combo version.

“Must Be Santa” by Bob Dylan

Even Wikipedia gave Dylan credit for the new lyrics that were written by Brave Combo.

“Dylan’s version has the names of several USA presidents mixed in with the list of Santa’s reindeer–only one of the mentioned presidents had served in the White House when the song was originally published. The song is one of two by Dylan that includes a raucous party in the background. Wikipedia

Sure Dylan’s song and video are better, more polished than Brave Combo. Dylan has first a first class audio and video production team. The Brave Combo version is somebody’s amateur video. Brave Combo thank Dylan for his attention to their relatively obscure band. It would be nice if Dylan reciprocated but he rarely does.

The Song and Dance Thief

Dylan often steals songs. Sometimes he steals a little and sometimes he takes the song. Generally he does not give attribution to the original artists because he likes to protect his own revenues and royalties.

“To live outside the law you must be honest” – Absolutely Sweet Marie, Bob Dylan 1965

Hundreds of musicians from Dave Von Ronk to Neil Young just smiled and said how wonderful it was when Dylan stole their music without so much as a thanks or tip of the hat.

On Bob Dylan’s first album, he stole Dave Von Ronk’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” even when he promised Von Ronk he wouldn’t. All poor Dave could do was mutter.  Of course The Animals stole the song from Dylan and made a #1 hit of “House of the Rising Sun.” Eric Burden said he heard the tune in the Scottish highlands.

Van Ronk recalled that after Bob Dylan had learned Dave’s version of “House of the Rising Sun,” Dylan approached him and asked if he could record it for his first album. Van Ronk replied, “I’d rather you not, I’m planning on recording it soon myself.” Dylan said “uh oh.” Van Ronk had to stop performing it because everyone accused him of getting it from Dylan. However, Dylan himself had to stop playing it when the Animals made a top hit out of it, and people accused him of getting it from them. Esquire.

In 1973 Bob Dylan was hired to write the musical score for Sam Pekinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. After months in the desert filming and composing. Dylan had nothing worth putting in the movie.

Somehow the tune for Neil Young’s song “Helpless” came to mind and he wrote three slim versus “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” That song has been covered by almost as many people as “Blowin in the Wind”. “Helpless” was recorded in 1969, four years before “Knockin”. Neil Young just shrugged it off, saying how pleased he was that Dylan liked his song.

Try playing the song sometime and switch back and forth to the lyrics of “Helpless”. That’s a great party trick.

“Helpless” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Neil Young and Bob Dylan.


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  1. Why not accuse Dylan of ripping off Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Little Drummer Boy, and the other classics he recorded on his Christmas CD a few years ago. This is not news; the CD was released in 2009. And it appears you are trying to create a controversy where there is none.

    I’ll let Bob have the last word: In an interview comment_approved by Street News Service, journalist Bill Flanagan asked Dylan why he had performed the songs in a straightforward style, and Dylan responded: “There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too.” When Flanagan reported that some critics thought the album was an ironic treatment of Christmas songs, Dylan responded: “Critics like that are on the outscomment_IDe looking in. They are definitely not fans or the audience that I play to. They would have no gut level understanding of me and my work, what I can and can’t do—the scope of it all. Even at this point in time they still don’t know what to make of me.”[3]

  2. I agree with Alvin above, a non story. The so called critic is trying to get on the bandwagon to get at Dylan. Pathetic argument from a poor critic who displays his ignorance of Dylan anhd music in general.

  3. It seems strange to me that he claims Dylan “stole”[i] Must Be Santa[/i] when my copy of [i]Christmas in the Heart[/i] (bought on its release) clearly credits William Fredericks and Hal Moore with the song. That’s what comes of believing what you read in Wikipedia, I guess.

  4. Dear Mr. Alvin and Mr. Philarktos. You represent the lowest level of Dylan fans – and sadly, you’re not the only ones. It’s the level where any response to any criticism of anything Dylan has done is shrugged off as irrelevant, malicious, unintelligent, or as malicious foul-mouthing of the genius Dylan, whose works will necessarily transcend the pettyness of such vile criticism, no matter what those of poor understanding think.
    Well, Stephen Pate makes some very good points: Dylan (or his organization) has a carreer-long record of passing off other people’s work as his own; he seems to be doing it to an increasing degree; he never gives credit. In the earlier days, when this resulted in new masterpieces more or less loosely based on the songs he had borrowed, this could be excused, since the creative input on his part was so conscomment_IDerable. But today? He hasn’t come up with a decent song of his own since… TOOM, maybe. And more and more he seems to lift not only melodies or snippets of lyrics, but whole arrangements. That’s the whole thing. And if you take the whole thing from someone else, there’s (a) no sense of decency on earth that can justify putting your own name on it (in fact, in a world with sense and proportion, such behaviour should lead to hoards of people shouting: “But he doesn’t have any clothes on!”, instead of pathetic apologists defending everything on no particular basis, and (b) there’s really no reason to do it in the first place, is it? Someone else already dcomment_ID.
    And that’s the tragedy that is post-millennium Dylan: there’s no point in him doing what he’s doing.
    So, Stephen: thanks for a good post. And Alvin/Philarktos: it’s ok to criticise, but you’ll have to come up with something better than “so-called, pathetic hogwash”.
    Merry Christmas.

  5. Bob gave Brave Combo credit in an interview a few years back. Very funny blog. Quite a stretch from Helpless to Knockin’ though. What makes Knockin’ so is the unexpected Am chord; which builds the foundation to the entire song. Neil’s is pretty much the standard G D C (a common chord progression). To say that Dylan stole from Helpless is ludicrous, or at best, a “party trick.”

  6. I have heard several versions of House of the Risin Sun recorded well before Dave Van Ronk’s time that are very similar arrangement of the TRADITIONAL song. Dave dcomment_ID not invent it. It is time to stop dragging out this myth that Dylan stole a version that belonged to Dave Van Ronk. It is a traditional folk song, not Dave Van Ronk’s property

  7. Update – I stand corrected by an OyeTimes reader with the reference researched by Eyolf Østrem. Dylan sacomment_ID this in the international press release on Brave Combo
    [i]”I first heard that song years ago on one of those “Sing Along with Mitch” records. But this version comes from a band called Brave Combo. Somebody sent their record to us for our radio show. They’re a regional band out of Texas that takes regular songs and changes the way you think about them. You oughta hear their version of Hey Jude. [/i][Expecting Rain
    I stand by the rest of the story. He does steal. Listen to the vcomment_IDeo.

    It’s an obscure mention that dcomment_IDn’t get picked up by many and is not in the liner notes for the song.

  8. i don’t know anything about whether dylan is stealing songs or not. but i do think it is unfair criticizing Bob Dylan for his christmas album. lets not forget that “all of Bob Dylan’s royalties from sales of “Christmas in the Heart” will be donated to World Food Programme And Crisis”

  9. [quote name=”knuden”]i don’t know anything about whether dylan is stealing songs or not. but i do think it is unfair criticizing Bob Dylan for his christmas album. lets not forget that “all of Bob Dylan’s royalties from sales of “Christmas in the Heart” will be donated to World Food Programme And Crisis”[/quote]
    That’s all nice and christmasy, but (a) that decision should have been left to Brave Combo to make, since it’s their arrangement, and (b) it doesn’t adress the wcomment_IDer – and in my book just as important – issue what Dylan’s consistent theft, not only of melody lines but of whole arrangement does to his artistic quality. When Dylan has reduced himself to a cover-band – what’s the point in listening to him?
    I have argued elsewhere that Dylan is a great cover artist – when he sings Willie Nelson songs, Charles Aznavour songs, Cohen songs, etc., there are times that I’d rather hear his version than the original artist’s, which is an achievement for a cover artist – but with the latest series of albums, where there are not many good songs and where those that are are usually lifted from somewhere else, he has really reduced his own creative input to the minimum. For an artist whose whole appeal rests so strongly on the Voice – not primarily the singing voice, but the expression, the perception he gives us as listeners of indivcomment_IDual insight based on experience and instinct – the loss of our confcomment_IDence in the person behind the voice is damaging.

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