It’s long held that Michael Jackson’s greatest contribution to video games came with the ridiculous/awesome 1990 arcade beat-’em-up Moonwalker. However, rumors have persisted over the years that the King of Pop also composed music for the 1994 Sega game Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but had the music removed for reasons only speculated upon. Now, a new Huffington Post expose on the strange journey of Jackson’s soundtrack claims to prove once and for all that not only did he write and record music for the game, but that the songs actually made it in.
The story goes that Jackson was so enamored with the Sonic games that, upon hearing work was underway on a third installment, he called up Sega and invited himself over. While touring the facility, a developer working on the new game asked if Jackson wanted to contribute music for the soundtrack. Brad Buxer, who has a songwriter credit on Sonic 3 and was working with Jackson on music of his own, confirmed to HuffPo that they collaborated. “I was working with Michael on the Dangerous album,” Buxer said, “and he told me he was going to be doing the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack for Sonic 3. He asked me if I would help him with it.”
According to Buxer, some 41 tracks were recorded. “We did use a lot of samples made from [Jackson’s] beatboxing,” added Buxer. “We would chop this up and use it in cues. Of course there were Michael ‘he-he’s’ and other signature Michaelisms.” However, because Jackson chose to record in “high-profile” studio quality, much of the music was squashed down thanks to the compression necessary to fit it on a 16-bit game. Because of this, Jackson was dissatisfied with the final quality of the sound.
“Michael wanted his name taken off the credits if they couldn’t get it to sound better,” Buxer explained. (Rumors also maintain that Jackson’s then-fresh accusations surrounding child sexual abuse could have led to Sega pulling his name from the game.) Doug Grigsby III and Cirocco Jones, two other credited songwriters on Sonic 3, also confirmed this, with all noting that Jackson was essentially the leader of the soundtrack team.
Although his name was left off the final game (for whatever reason), it turns out his music was very much kept in. “Oh, it did get in the game,” Grigsby insisted. “The stuff we handed in, the stuff we did, made it. To. The game.”
In fact, careful listeners claim that you can flat out hear famous Jackson jams within the score. There’s “Carnival Night Act 1”, which is almost a dead ringer for “Jam”; “Azure Lake”, which sounds like a sped-up “Black or White”; and the “Act 1 Boss” battle, which beats like “In the Closet” and still features some trademark “woo”s and “c’mon”s. Most incredibly of all, the closing credits song sounds just like an early attempt at “Stranger in Moscow”.
You can hear the musical similarities for yourself by breaking out that old Sega Genesis or listening to the track-by-track comparisons below. Note that the YouTube video was made by a 15-year-old a few years back, but it still gives a good idea of how Jackson’s stamp is clearly on this game.
“End Credits”/”Stranger in Moscow” mashup: