Written as a collaboration between Montreal ragtime pianist William Eckstein and lyricist Sam Howard, S’Nice was recorded by the popular comic singer and radio star, tenor Billy Jones, on Montreal’s Apex label. Subtitled “Naughty, but it’s nice,” the Jones recording was made on November 19, 1922 in Montreal as a 78-rpm disc (Apex 588-A) and released by the Sam Howard Publishing Company in 1923.
A catchy little ragtime number, a very popular hit in its day but little-known today, S’Nice also sold well as sheet music and in piano roll format, the Howard company's advertising calling the song “a spicy little novelty.” The cute comic song as recorded by Jones was sung to a ragtime band accompaniment, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that hint at new freedoms for young women.
Among the musical features of S’Nice that reflect the musical style of the 1920s are the hints at modern syncopation; and the Tin Pan Alley-style chromatic passage at the end of the line “Every time that boy starts to kiss.” In addition, the song’s irregular phrasing introduces an element of unexpectedness, paralleling the girl’s breathless excitement: “Oh how my brain is reeling since the day I met my beau!”
Interestingly, Jones’s recorded lyrics differ from those in the sheet music, which tells the story from the sole point of view of a young, naïve girl. Jones adds an introductory verse from his male perspective, asking a female friend what makes her love her boyfriend so; the nudge-nudge, wink-wink chorus in which Jones imitates a girl’s higher excited voice contains her explanation: “When we get into the parlour and the lights are out / That’s when he shines, folks, without a doubt! / And the things he does make me get up and shout / Naughty, but it’s nice.”
The Jones recording also adds a third verse in which the girl reports that her beau takes her to the movies where they sit in the last row (the traditional haunt of courting couples) and ‒ hint, hint ‒ they don’t watch the show.
The Canadian soprano Sally Dibblee, star of Canadian and international opera stage, recorded a definitive, charming cover with faithfully period-appropriate interpretation, accompanied at the piano by Carolyn Maule, on the 1996 Canadian Music Centre CD, “Le Souvenir: Canadian Songs for Parlour and Stage.”
There is no known recorded version of S’Nice by its composer, William Eckstein.
The music of S’Nice was published by the Canadian Musical Heritage Society in 1993 as part of its series of publications of historic Canadian musical works.
The ragtime pianist William Eckstein (1888 – 1963) was born in Pointe-Ste-Charles (Montreal) Quebec. He distinguished himself as a star of vaudeville, silent movies, ragtime performance, jazz, and radio.
Sam Howard worked with numerous other composers on songs such as Music Makes The World Go Round recorded by The Melody Kings, and Lonesome Rose, recorded by Al Edwards in 1923. Another successful Eckstein-Howard collaboration was Lest You Forget.