Michael Jackson Involvement with Sonic 3

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Michael Jackson with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Michael Jackson (born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana, USA - died on June 25th, 2009 in Los Angeles, California, USA) was an American musician, renowned for his choreography and songs such as Billie Jean, Thriller, and Bad. Also, within the Sonic community Jackson is notable for his involvement in composing Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog 3 soundtrack in 1993. He also worked with Sega in co-producing Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, a game which was released on several platforms. Many of the ports had drastic differences from one another.

Brad Buxer Interview

On December 2, 2009, a member named dma from the website VGMdb (a website that focuses on video game music) brought attention to an article in Black & White Magazine. This interview was with Brad Buxer, a credited music composer for the Sonic 3 soundtrack and long-time collaborator with Michael Jackson. In this interview, Buxer confirms that the final release of Sonic 3 does contain at least one piece of work by Michael Jackson:

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. [...]

— An excerpt from the Black & White Magazine interview with Brad Buxer

According to this statement, Jackson did not wish to be credited by name in the game because he was unhappy with the quality of sound the Sega Mega Drive's Yamaha YM-2612 sound chip produced. Buxer's statement also confirms that the similarity between Jackson's "Stranger in Moscow" and Sonic 3's ending credits song are not a coincidence, and that the credits theme indeed uses chords originally composed by him and Buxer. This statement directly contradicts what another Sega employee, Roger Hector, claimed about Jackson's involvement. Scans of the interview can be found here.

Roger Hector Interview: "His work was dropped"

In September of 2005, an interview was conducted by HXC with Roger Hector, the Executive Coordinator for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and General Manager of the SEGA Technical Institute for a number of years. In this interview, Hector reveals information about Jackson's involvement in composing the game's soundtrack. When asked about his favorite project:

Sonic 3 (also called Sonic & Knuckles) was a lot of fun, but it was also very difficult. 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.

— Roger Hector, General Manager of the SEGA Technical Institute

This statement reveals that a soundtrack was indeed composed by Jackson for Sonic 3, but, according to Hector, was dropped from the game (whether complete or not at the time) due to his child molestation allegations. Before this interview, little attention was brought to the thought of Jackson being involved in Sonic 3, but after, more information was revealed about Sega's plan with Jackson to compose the game's music.

Howard Drossin, a composer for a number of Sega games, would contribute to the soundtrack that is now used in Sonic 3. Brad Buxer, Doug Grisby III, Bobby Brooks, Darryl Ross and Geoff Grace also lent their work to Sonic 3's soundtrack. Interestingly, these same people have also worked with Michael Jackson at some point in their careers.

Evidence for his involvement

The Buxer interview confirms that Jackson helped compose at least the chords for one song: the Sonic 3 credits theme. While Hector stated that all of Jackson's work was removed from Sonic 3 upon his child molestation allegations, many have noticed other similarities between Jackson's own released music and Sonic 3 songs. As Hector was outside of the development team he may have not had correct information.

Audio similarities

In a 2006 documentary by Qjimbo, a theory was developed stating that Jackson's work was not completely removed after all. Similarities between some tracks in the final Sonic 3 and Jackson's own work outside of Sega were evidence for this claim.

"Smooth Criminal", "Who Is It", & IceCap Zone Act 1

A good portion of Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" has a chord structure similar to that of IceCap Zone Act 1. This is especially noticeable in the version that plays in the "Moonwalker" movie, which isn't found on the Bad album. Roughly six minutes into the song, following the bass solo after the quiet orchestral section (as Jackson and the gangsters perform the Anti Gravity Lean), the bassline and string section clearly changes to a piece of music very similar to IceCap Zone. After the main bassline returns, a keyboard continues to play the IceCap chord sequence until the end of the song. This was first noticed by Shade.

Jackson's "Who Is It" is also very similar to both "Smooth Criminal" and IceCap Zone Act 1. The keyboard section under the chorus, when sped up, has an almost identical chord structure and texture to that of IceCap Zone Act 1. This was first noticed by Dioxaz.

It was later revealed that the song was likely based not on a Jackson song after all, but "Hard Times", recorded by new wave band The Jetzons in 1982, but unreleased until the 2008 compilation The Complete Jetzons. Brad Buxer was the band's keyboardist.

"Jam" & Carnival Night Zone

The similarities between "Jam" and Carnival Night Zone (both acts) were spotted by Ben2k9 before it was even known that Michael Jackson worked on the music for Sonic 3. The tracks themselves aren't very similar, but there is a horn-based "downwards fall" (played directly before Heavy D's rap in the Jackson song) that also appears during Carnival Night. Carnival Night also uses a small sample taken from "Jam" (the sound of breaking glass as well as Heavy D uttering the word "Jam" from the beginning of his rap verse).

The Carnival Night Zone melody is compared to horns in "Jam" from the album Dangerous (transposed down one semitone). Identical notes between the two songs are highlighted in red.

This similar "downwards fall" is also apparent audibly:

"Stranger in Moscow" & Sonic 3 Credits

"Stranger In Moscow" is one of Jackson's songs that sounds most remarkably similar to a Sonic 3 song. The synth/strings section, as heard in the intro before the lyrics start, is identical to the sequence that plays during the first section of the ending theme to Sonic 3. It should be noted that both MJ and Dreams Come True (whose band member Masato Nakamura help composed music for Sonic 1 and Sonic 2) decided to use ending music elsewhere, or vice versa. This was discovered by Shade.

Sound Effects

Michael Jackson's Blood on the Dance Floor contains samples that sound identical to the short 4-bar swinging hiphop beat that was used for Knuckles Theme on the original Sonic 3. Peculiarly enough this was one of the tracks that was replaced with the release of Sonic & Knuckles, and did not appear in the PC release of the game.

Cirocco Jones discography

A discography of another musician working on the game, Cirocco Jones (appearing as 'Scirocco' in the Sonic 3 credits), lists a "levels 2 & 3" as being composed by Michael Jackson and belonging to "Sonic The Hedgehog."[1] This "levels 2 & 3" could be referring to Hydrocity Zone and Marble Garden Zone, respectively. However, this may be referring to work that had been composed, but already removed from the game. At the very least, the songs of Hydrocity and Marble Garden in the final game sound (instruments and composition) nothing like IceCap, Carnival Night, etc.

Unable to credit Jackson

Even if Jackson's work was used in Sonic 3, there was a possibility his name could not appear in the credits due to contractual complications. In 1991, Jackson guest starred in the episode, Stark Raving Dad, in the third season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons Jackson was credited as John Jay Smith, a person that does not exist. The character Lisa Simpson refers to Jackson's work in a season four episode when talking about an Itchy and Scratchy movie: "And you wouldn't believe the celebrities who did cameos. Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson...of course they didn't use their real names, but you could tell it was them." If Jackson could not be credited for his work in The Simpsons, then his work in Sonic 3 may also have been uncredited if it was included in the final game, if the same line of thought is followed. This was discovered by XCubed³.

Removed tracks in PC version

The PC remake Sonic & Knuckles Collection featured replaced some tracks, e.g. for Carnival Night Zone, IceCap Zone, Launch Base Zone, the Knuckles Theme of Sonic 3, the Competition Menu, and the Sonic 3 credits music by Takushi Hiyamuta instead Michael Jackson version. This OST is also used in Sonic 3 Complete romhack and Metal Slug series. One theory behind the reason for replacing these tracks is that the original tracks may have been composed by Jackson, and were removed in this remake due to legal reasons. But the Xplosiv have original synthesized OST.