In the early ‘90’s, Sega and Michael Jackson were a video game power-couple. Michael commissioned Sega to create both the arcade and home-console versions of his Moonwalker game. This led to a lot of interest in future collaborations, including the King of Pop creating an entire soundtrack for Sega’s upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 3. However, Jackson’s name is not found anywhere in the game’s actual credits. Officially M.J. had no involvement with the finished game, but history tells a different story.
Michael Jackson Wrote the Music for Sonic 3
In 1993, when Sega was gearing up production of their latest Sonic sequel, Jackson was facing very real legal issues, surrounding his alleged sexual abuse. Some claim this was the reason that Sega broke ties with him, fearing the potential backlash. Others say that Michael walked on the project, citing creative issues. Regardless, for years both Sega and Michael Jackson's people have claimed that Jackson was in no way involved with composing the game's final score.
Both Jackson and Sega Claim it Never Happened...
Unfortunately, there is a small mountain of evidence to prove Jackson’s involvement, but it took over a decade for it to come to light. Die-hard fansegan to notice uncanny similarities between musical stings in Sonic 3 and a number of Jackson’s songs. Portions of Smooth Criminal share a chord structure with IceCap Zone Act 1. The same chord structure is also evident in Jackson's Who is It. Carnival Night Zone uses a direct sample from Jam, Blood on the Dance Floor contains samples that are identical to the 4-bar hiphop beat that makes up Knuckles' Theme. However, the most glaring similarity is between Stranger in Moscow and the game's triumphant credits theme.The synth section, heard before the lyrics start, is the same as the sequence that starts off the credits theme.
Furthermore, when Sonic 3 was ported to the PC, a number of these tracks were altered, for no apparent reason. Many speculate that this was due to undisclosed licensing arrangements on the pieces that Jackson had helped to compose. Short of copyright issues, there's really no reason why Sega would alter a handful of tracks and leave the rest untouched. However, even now Sega declines to comment on the issue.
The Music Syncs up with The King of Pop's Hits!
Still, Sega's silence only served to further the public's interest in solving this decade-long mystery. In 2009, an article from Black and White Magazine was unearthed, that finally shed light on the matter. The article was an interview with Brad Buxer, a former Jackson collaborator and credited music composer for Sonic 3. Apparently, he remembers Jackson being fairly involved in the early stages of developing the the game's soundtrack. This is what was written:
"B&W: Can you clarify the rumor that Michael had in 1993 composed the music for Sonic 3 video game, for which you havel been credited?
Buxer: I've never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept, but we did compose music for the game. Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that's what I did. And if he is not credited for composing the music, it's because he was not happy with the result sound coming out of the console. At the time, game consoles did not allow an optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music...
B&W: One of the surprising things in this soundtrack is that you can hear the chords from Stranger in Moscow, which is supposed to have been composed later...
Buxer: Yes, Michael and I had composed those chords for the game, and it has been used as base for Stranger in Moscow."
However, a 2005 interview with Sonic 3's Executive Coordinator tells a somewhat different story. Roger Hector, the former General Manager of the SEGA Technical Institute, said this to HXC:
"Michael Jackson was originally brought in to compose all the music for the game, but at the very end, his work was dropped after his scandals became public. This caused a lot of problems and required a lot of reworking. But the game turned out great in the end."
At Last, The Truth Revealed!
There you have it. Whether or not his involvement dissolved because of creative differences or legal drama, Michael Jackson did indeed lend his talents to Sonic the Hedgehog 3. And despite the collaboration’s tumultuous history, Jackson later lent his likeness and voice to the Dreamcast-exclusive games, Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2. So, even though Sega still refuses to officially acknowledge Jackson's involvement with Sonic, it would seem as though both parties went on to settle their differences.
Was this news to you or did you always suspect something was different about the music in Sonic 3? Do you believe Buxer, or do you think there is still more to this mystery? As always, share your theories in the Comments.