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Sonic the Hedgehog 3/Development/Music

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Unlike other Sonic games, the music of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 stands as an ongoing controversy for Sega due to the choices made during development. It is not fully understood how much of the soundtrack is owned by the company, having outsourced its production to third-parties, some of which have chosen to distance themselves from the project in later years.

Masato Nakamura, responsible for the soundtracks to the first two Mega Drive Sonic games games, was at the time having a great deal of success with his band, Dreams Come True, leading him up his demands for working on a possible Sonic 3. Nakamura wanted more money; both for his contributions in this new game and for if Sega chose to reuse his compositions for any future Sonic titles. Sega declined, and decided to look elsewhere for the composition power needed in Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

Like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was set to be developed in the United States at the Sega Technical Institute, where a chunk of the original Sonic Team (including Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara) were still situated. Answering the call, Sega are thought to have been approached by pop sensation Michael Jackson and his team. Jackson had a history with Sega (most notably producing Michael Jackson's Moonwalker early in the Mega Drive's lifespan) and had visited Sega's offices in Japan some months prior. He liked video games, he liked Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sega accepted immediately.

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.

— Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons episode 9F03, "The Itchy & Scratchy Movie"[1]

However, Michael Jackson is not credited in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (or indeed Sonic & Knuckles - the eventual "second half" of the adventure). Instead, credits go to the following "music composers": Brad Buxer, Bobby Brooks, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace, Doug Grigsby III and Scirocco (and in addition, Sega's internal sound team and Cube are also confirmed to have composed music for the game). The omission, particularly in the early 90s when only the core team of developers usually made it into the credits, was perhaps not surprising, but still curious as several staff members have mentioned the star by name.

Jackson had a history of going uncredited (or using pseudonyms) in productions, often due to contractual complications. Reportedly Jackson's record label at the time, Epic Records refused permission for the star to sing for any of its potential rivals. The most famous example of this is third season episode of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons, Stark Raving Dad (1991), where despite guest starring as "Micheal Jackson", the credit is given to "John Jay Smith", a person that does not exist[2]. This was later referenced in a season four episode of the show.

In 1993, Michael Jackson became caught up in child sexual abuse allegations and cancelled the final leg of his Dangerous World Tour due to health concerns. General Manager of the Sega Technical Institute at that time, Roger Hector, stated in a 2005 interview and in a follow up video interview on Pop Fiction in 2013 that this scandal lead to Michael Jackson's music being removed. Brad Buxer, a member of Michael Jackson's production team, argued that the music was not removed but instead Michael Jackson was simply uncredited. Additionally, Buxer stated the reason was not the scandal but that Michael Jackson was not satisfied with the sound quality produced by the Sega Mega Drive system.

In 2016, Todd van Luling from the Huffington Post reached out to all of the Western composers involved, and in this article they explained that they had in fact been assembled by Michael Jackson to help compose music for the game and confirmed that the music they made could still be heard in the final release of the game, providing hard evidence on what had been speculated on for more than a decade. Additionally, with the revelation of the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 1993-11-03 prototype in 2019, it appears that the music that Michael Jackson's team produced was used to replace existing tracks in the Sega Mega Drive version, with Sonic & Knuckles Collection retaining the original prototype tracks composed by Sega's internal sound team and Cube. This further points the evidence in the direction of Michael Jackson not wanting to be credited due to the sound quality, as the development team had the option to completely roll back to the original tracks they had prior to the involvement of Michael Jackson if the scandal had been so objectionable.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 credits

Michael Jackson's Team

The following people are listed as 'Music Composers' in the ending credits scroll, with Buxer, Grigsby and Jones all confirming in this 2016 Huffington Post article that they worked with Michael Jackson on the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

  • Brad Buxer
  • Bobby Brooks
  • Darryl Ross
  • Geoff Grace
  • Doug Grigsby III
  • C. Cirocco Jones ("Scirocco")

SEGA Sound Team

The following people are listed under 'SEGA Sound Team' in the ending credits scroll.

Sound Special Thanks

The following people are listed under 'Sound Special Thanks' in the ending credits scroll. Mayumi Nina Sakazaki was Michael Jackson's coordinator, although her role in Sonic 3 is unclear. Nagao has confirmed that Miyoko Takaoka and Masanori Hikichi of Cube contributed music to the game, and that the Opus Corp. credit was placed as he was preparing the join the company during the development. It is unclear what Masanori Nakayama's involvement was, while Howard Drossin would go on to contribute a few tracks for Sonic & Knuckles.

  • Mayumi Nina Sakazaki (MRM)
  • Cube Corp.
  • Opus Corp.
  • Masanori Nakayama (Studio Who)
  • Howard Drossin

Music Soundtrack

This is a work in progress list to identify the team & composer(s) behind each piece of music in the Sonic 3 & Knuckles game series.
Sonic Retro
Discussion Thread
.


Angel Island Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Angelisland.png 01 ALL Sega Act 1: ???
02 ALL Sega Act 2: ???
The compositions for Act 1 and Act 2 were used in an arrangement that Jun Senoue prepared for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This arrangement was also included in the compilation CD True Blue: The Best of Sonic the Hedgehog. Because Brawl's "Sound Test" credits Senoue for the composition, he has occasionally been listed as the original composer for "Angel Island Zone", but Senoue has stated that this is not the case and the original music composition credits for the Brawl arrangement are attributed to "Sega" on True Blue. The arrangement for Act 1 is unlockable in Sonic Generations and Tee Lopes has rearranged this piece for Sonic Mania Plus. This arrangement is even included on the game's soundtrack. However, in all instances, the composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Hydrocity Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
HydrocityAct1.png 03 ALL Sega Act 1: ???
04 ALL Sega Act 2: Masayuki Nagao[3]
It was originally believed to be composed by Michael Jackson's team due to Cirocco Jones' website having a section for "Levels 2 & 3" of a Sonic the Hedgehog game with a demo called "The Water". It has been assumed that "Level 2" refers to "Hydrocity Zone". However, this is likely not by Michael Jackson's team. The Act 2 arrangement is significantly more different from the Act 1 arrangement and there are no vocal samples incorporated in either, unlike the other MJ compositions. The "Level 3" mentioned - often assumed to be "Marble Garden Zone" - has been confirmed as possibly being composed by Miyoko Takaoka, a member of Cube Corp. The music for Hydrocity Zone exist in the 1993-11-03 prototype. The arrangement for Act 1 is unlockable in Sonic Generations. Both Acts were rearranged by Tee Lopes for Sonic Mania and included in the game's soundtrack. None of this would have happened if these pieces were not composed in-house.


Marble Garden Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Marblegarden.png 05 ALL Cube Act 1: Miyoko Takaoka[4]
06 ALL Cube Act 2: Miyoko Takaoka
In 2014, Miyoko Takaoka stated that she had composed the music for "Marble Garden Zone" and an ambiguous "bonus stage" during a correspondence on Twitter. However, when sent links to the bonus stage compositions from Sonic 3, she did not recognize any of them and suspected that her composition was replaced for the final release. While unconfirmed, the same may be true for "Marble Garden Zone". That being said, the arrangement for Act 1 is unlockable in Sonic Generations which suggests there are no rights issues for these compositions and makes it very unlikely that they were written by Michael Jackson's team.


Carnival Night Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Carnivalnight.png 07 S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 1: ???
S3 M.J. Act 1: ???
08 S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 2: ???
S3 M.J. Act 2: ???
Both Acts of the S3 version contain music inspiration from "Jam" by Michael Jackson and "Entry of the Gladiators" by Julius Fučík. The latter piece is in the public domain.


Flying Battery Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
FlyingBatteryAct1.png 09 ALL Sega Act 1: ???
0A ALL Sega Act 2: ???
The arrangement for Act 1 is unlockable in Sonic Generations. Both Acts were rearranged by Tee Lopes for Sonic Mania and were included on the game's soundtrack, indicating Sega has full ownership of these compositions and that they were composed in-house.


Ice Cap Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Icecap.png 0B S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 1: ???
S3 M.J. Act 1: Brad Buxer
0C S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 2: ???
S3 M.J. Act 2: Brad Buxer
The S3 version based on "Hard Times" by The Jetzons in 1982. Brad Buxer was the keyboardist for The Jetzons and is credited in Sonic 3. Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), an authority on music credentials, also attributes Bruce Connole as songwriter/composer for "Hard Times". Connole was vocalist for the 1982 composition. The compositions for Ice Cap Zone has never been officially released by Sega in any official capacity.


Launch Base Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Launchbase.png 0D S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 1: ???
S3 M.J. Act 1: ???
0E S3 Proto, PC Sega Act 2: ???
S3 M.J. Act 2: ???
The compositions for Launch Base Zone has never been officially released by Sega in any official capacity.


Mushroom Hill Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
MushroomHillAct1.png 0F ALL Sega Act 1: ???
10 ALL Sega Act 2: ???
Two arrangements of "Mushroom Hill Zone" were made for the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Generations and are included in the game's soundtrack. The Act 1 composition is an unlockable piece in the console version of Generations.


Sandopolis Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sandopolis.png 11 ALL Sega Act 1: ???
12 ALL Sega Act 2: ???
Though Howard Drossin included a piece of the same name in the album Virtual Sonic, the composition is completely different from the one used in-game. An arrangement of this piece by Tee Lopes and Jun Senoue - dubbed "Boo's House" - was included in Team Sonic Racing. This arrangement is on the official Sonic YouTube Channel and the game's soundtrack. In the latter, the original game music composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Lava Reef Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Lavareef.png 13 ALL Sega  ???
Used only for the Zone's first Act. Act 2 uses the music for Hidden Palace Zone. The composition was rearranged by Tee Lopes for Sonic Mania and is included on the game's soundtrack, where its original composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Hidden Palace Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
S3K HPZ.PNG 14 ALL Sega  ???
Is also used as Lava Reef Zone's Act 2 music. The composition was rearranged by Tee Lopes for Sonic Mania and is included on the game's soundtrack, where its original composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Sky Sanctuary Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Skysanctuary.png 15 ALL Sega  ???
This piece is also used as the ending cutscene music for S&K and S3&K before the staff roll. This track has been used extensively in recent releases: it has been rearranged for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, Sonic Generations, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. In all instances, the original game composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Death Egg Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
DeathEggAct1.png 16 ALL Sega Act 1: ???
17 ALL Sega Act 2: ???
No notes here.


Sub-Boss Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Aizsubboss.png 18 S3 Proto, S&K, PC Sega  ???
2E S3 M.J. Brad Buxer
Sonic 3 version built upon Knuckles' Theme (Sonic 3 version). Likely composed by Brad Buxer. Features similar chord progression used in Is It Scary from the Blood on the Dancefloor album. Geoff Grace is credited as arranger.


Unused Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Notavailable.svg 2E S3 Proto, PC Sega  ???
Was replaced in Mega Drive versions with sub-boss music.


Boss Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Aizboss.png 19 ALL Sega  ???
No notes here.


The Doomsday Zone ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
DoomsdayLevel.PNG 1A ALL Sega  ???
No notes here.


Bonus Stage (Rolling Jump) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Magspheres.png 1B ALL Sega Jun Senoue
Also known as the "Glowing Spheres Bonus Stage". Senoue is listed as the composer for this piece on the Sonic & Knuckles • Sonic The Hedgehog 3 soundtrack.


Special Stage (Blue Spheres) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
S3k specialstage.png 1C ALL Sega Yoshiaki Kashima[5]
Was recycled from the unreleased SegaSonic Bros. for the Sega System C2 in 1992 from Stage 40 to 49 gameplay music. The music is also listed as track 15 on the compilation CD Sonic The Hedgehog 10th Anniversary and was rearranged by Teep Lopes for Sonic Mania.


Bonus Stage (Slot Machine) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Slots.png 1D ALL Sega  ???
No notes here.


Bonus Stage (Gumball) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Bubblegum.png 1E ALL Sega Jun Senoue[6]
Confirmed through interview with the composer.


Knuckles' Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Angelislandknuckles.png 1F S3 Proto, PC Sega  ???
S3 M.J. Brad Buxer
S&K Sega Howard Drossin
Music used in the prototype occurs during cutscenes with Knuckles at the end of AIZ Act 2 & HZ Act 2 (but not at start of AIZ Act 1). The same music is used in the Sonic & Knuckles Collection PC version. The Sonic 3 version was heavily inspired by the drum beat of "Blood on the Dancefloor" by Michael Jackson (drum programming credited to Brad Buxer).


Azure Lake Zone (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Azure Lake Zone.png 20 ALL Sega  ???
No notes yet.


Balloon Park Zone (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Balloonpark.png 21 ALL Sega Jun Senoue[7]
Composition credit shared with Sega Sound Team on the Sonic Generations Original Soundtrack: Blue Blur music CD (Disc 2, Track 24).


Desert Palace Zone (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Desertpalace.png 22 ALL Sega  ???
No notes here.


Chrome Gadget Zone (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Chromegadget.png 23 ALL Sega  ???
No notes here.


Endless Mine Zone (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Endlessmine.png 24 ALL Sega  ???
The melody bears similarities to "Escape from the City" from Sonic Adventure 2, composed by Jun Senoue. However, Senoue himself has stated that said track is not based on Endless Mine Zone's music[8], nor does he mention working on this piece. Regardless, Cash Cash incorporated the melody for this piece in their Act 1 arrangement of "Escape from the City" for Sonic Generations, during which the player controls Classic Sonic. The original music composition for this arrangement is solely attributed to Senoue on the Blue Blur soundtrack CD.


Title Screen ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 title.png 25 S3C Proto, S3, PC Sega Tomonori Sawada[9]
Sonic & Knuckles title.png S&K, PC Sega Howard Drossin[10]
Title screen music changes in the PC version based on the game combination the player chooses to play.


Staff Roll ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD CreditsStart.png 26 S3 Proto, PC Sega  ???
S3 M.J. Brad Buxer
DC S3C Proto Sega / Cube / M.J. Various
S&K, PC Sega Various
Staff roll used in the PC version accessible through Sound Test of the prototype. The Sonic 3 version of the staff roll was the basis of Michael Jackson's song "Stranger In Moscow", as confirmed in the Black & White magazine interview, and episode 100 of TheMJCast audio interview. Brad Buxer used the same chords. The Sonic 3C 0517 prototype changed the staff roll music to incorporate themes from Zones of the S3 & S&K games. However, the final mix is a medley of S&K Zones only.


Game Over ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD GameOver.png 27 ALL Sega Jun Senoue
Is credited in the Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island for the same cue[11] Also used for the "Time Over" cue if spending 10 minutes or more in an Act.


2-Player Results (Competition) ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
S3 2player.png 28 ALL Sega Jun Senoue
Is credited in the Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island as the Congratulations Screen music when unlocking Level Select[11]. This music was also used as the Continue Screen music, and the No Way? No Way! Screen music when locking the S&K cart onto another Mega Drive cart.


Act Cleared ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
SonicCanMoveDuringScoreTally.png 29 ALL Sega Jun Senoue
Is credited in the Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island for the same cue.[11]


Extra Life ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD ExtraLife.png 2A S3 Proto, S3, PC Sega Tomonori Sawada
S&K, PC Sega Howard Drossin
S3 version based off the S3 title screen. Likely one of the jingles Sawada referred to composing. This piece was used in a Progressive Insurance commercial in 2012. S&K version uses the tune of the S&K title screen. This tune is likely associated with Drossin. The PC version switches depending on the game combination the player choose to play.


Got Emerald ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD ChaosEmerald.png 2B ALL Sega Yukifumi Makino
Used as early as Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive.


Invincibility Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
S3Invincibility.PNG 2C S3 Proto, S3, PC Sega Tomonori Sawada
S&K, PC Sega Howard Drossin
Also used as the theme to the character's Super/Hyper transformation. S3 version based off the S3 title screen. Likely one of the jingles Sawada referred to composing. Was also used during a Progressive Insurance commercial in 2012. S&K version uses the tune of the S&K title screen. This tune is likely associated with Drossin. The PC version switches depending on the game combination the player choose to play.


Competition Screen ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
S3competitionscreen.png 2D S3 Proto, PC Sega  ???
S3 M.J.  ???
Prototype didn't use music (was only accessible in the Sound Test), but is used as Competition Menu in Sonic & Knuckles Collection. Mega Drive version is the only MJ team-composed track to use regular drums rather than samples exclusive to it.


Data Select ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD DataSelect.png 2F ALL Sega  ???
This piece has been remixed by Naofumi Hataya for Sonic Gems Collection as "Sonic3 MegaD Mix" and was later included in the 2008 CD True Blue: The History of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was also rearranged for the Gallery Room in Sonic Generations and is included in the game's Blue Blur soundtrack. In all instances, the original game composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Final Boss Theme ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
LBZBoss3Tails.png 30 ALL Sega  ???
This piece has been rearranged by Cash Cash for the 3DS version of Sonic Generations and by Tee Lopes for "Part 5: Metal Mayhem", the final episode of Sonic Mania Adventures. On the Blue Blur soundtrack for Generations, the original music composition is broadly attributed to "Sega".


Drowning Countdown ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD DrowningCountdown.png 31 ALL Sega Yukifumi Makino
Used as early as Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive.


Game Complete ID Version(s) Team Composer(s)
Sonic3 MD Ending Sonic.png 32 S3, PC Sega Tomonori Sawada
S&K Sega Howard Drossin
The S&K version is unused.

Audio samples list

Download.svg Download Sonic 3 Samples (WAV Format)
File: S3sampswav.rar (125 kB) (info)
The DAC audio samples located within the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 ROM (
Sonic Retro
originally extracted by Stealth
) are listed here as part of an ongoing project to locate where they came from.
Sonic Retro
Discussion Thread
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ID Audio Type Description Source Sample Pack / Original Zone / Event
9F

Played at 13.5kHz

Sample "Jam!" long Michael Jackson: "Jam" Original Carnival Night Zone
A0

Played at 13.5kHz

Sample "Jam!" short Michael Jackson: "Jam" Original Carnival Night Zone
A1
Sample Glass breaking 1 Michael Jackson - In the Closet (0:15) ([1]) Original Carnival Night Zone
A2
Sample Glass breaking 2 Michael Jackson - In the Closet (1:36) ([2]) Original Carnival Night Zone, Launch Base Zone
A5
Sample "Come on!" Norman Cook - "Skip To My Loops" (Track 64) Sample Pack Sub-boss
A9
Sample "Woo!"/"HUH" Norman Cook - "Skip To My Loops" (Track 64) Sample Pack Sub-boss
AA
Sample "Go!" Run-DMC: "Peter Piper" (1:56) Sample Pack Launch Base Zone
AB
Sample "Go!" + Snare Same as AA sample with snare drum added Edited Sample Pack Launch Base Zone
B4C1-C4
Sample Chord Stab
B5
Sample Chord Stab
B6
Sample "Yeah" / "Hey" + Kick James Brown: "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" (0:00) Original Knuckles' Theme, Sub-boss
B8-B9
Sample Chord Stab
BC
Sample Chord Stab
BE
Sample "Woo!" + Glass Breaking Same as A9 Sample with Glass Breaking added Edited Sample Pack Sub-Boss
C0
Sample Breath Original ?
X
Sample Chord Stabs Similar to sample BC
81
Drum Snare
82-85
Drum Tom
86
Drum Kick
87
Drum Snare
88
Drum Kick+Cymbal
89
Drum HiHat
8A-8B
SFX Metal hit
8C
SFX Pop/Click
8D-8E
Drum
8F
Clap
90-93
Drum E.Tom
94-97
Drum E.Snare
98-9A
Drum Timpani
9B
Drum Snare
9C
SFX Shaker
9D
SFX Distorted Kick
9E
SFX Hit
A3
SFX Hit
A4
Drum Muted Kick
A6
Drum E.Snare
A7
Drum Vintage Kick
A8
Drum Processed Kick
AC
Drum Processed Kick
AD-AE
Percussion Wooden Hit
AF-B0
Percussion Metal Hit
B1
SFX Sci-Fi Sound
B2-B3
Clap Knuckles' Theme
B7
Drum Kick
BA
SFX Reverse cymbal
BB
SFX Record Scratch
BD
Drum Kick
BF
SFX Click

Background on Michael Jackson's Team

Roger Hector

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[12]

In an interview in August 2005, Roger Hector, the "executive coordinator" of both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, confirmed that Michael Jackson composed all the music for the game, but was dropped due to the 1993 scandal[12]. This was backed up by a separate interview two years later, claiming that the Jackson soundtrack was never heard by the general publicMedia:Makingofs3kpg4.jpg[13].

While Hector was not directly involved in Sonic 3's development, his role was to manage all projects at STI, and was usually involved with high level discussions (Jackson's signing and dismissal being two of them).

The music fitted perfectly for the game, and they had a distinctive 'Michael Jackson' sound. We had it all ready and integrated into the game when the first news stories came out accusing him child molestation, and Sega had to back away from the collaboration...It was too bad nobody outside ever heard the Michael Jackson music.

— Roger Hector, Executive Coordinator, Sonic 3 & KnucklesMedia:Makingofs3kpg4.jpg[13]

This was the first confirmation we had about Michael Jackson's involvement in the game.

Brad Buxer

Brad Buxer, credited in Sonic 3, was a long-time contributor with Michael Jackson. He is the co-writer of the 1996 hit, Stranger in Moscow, and was also involved with the production of Jam and Who Is It, all of which are thought to share similarities with the Sonic 3 soundtrack.

Black & White Magazine (2009) Interview

Buxer shed some light into Michael Jackson's involvement in a December 2009 interview with Black & White Magazine. 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[14]

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.

However, these statements directly contradict what Roger Hector has said.

The MJCast (2019) Interview

In May 2019, Buxer was featured giving an interview on the The MJCast where he talked about the origin of Stranger in Moscow and his work on Sonic 3:

Buxer describes how he was assigned by Michael Jackson to start composing the music for the game, and it was Buxer who "delegated other people to help...like Doug Grigsby and Darryl Ross and other people."

Brad Buxer frames himself in the interview as being the lead on the Sonic 3 project, with Michael Jackson having less personal involvement.

Buxer states that in the end they had about 41 music cues ready for the game.

This suggests that it is possible that every act and zone had a track composed for it, even zones planned for Sonic & Knuckles, but we know that only a few appeared and only in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 alone. If this is true, it could provide an explanation as to why Roger Hector feels that people never heard the Michael Jackson soundtrack. Sonic & Knuckles features no tracks by Michael Jackson's team, and only a small number of the tracks made it into Sonic the Hedgehog 3, in contrast to all of the tracks Michael Jackson's team produced.

Howard Drossin

Howard Drossin and his guitar. From the MTV Special "Inside Sonic & Knuckles."

According to Roger Hector, Howard Drossin is said to have been brought in to replace Michael Jackson's musicMedia:Makingofs3kpg4.jpg[13], but also goes uncredited in Sonic 3. He is, however, the main composer behind Sonic & Knuckles (and is credited there).

Drossin, when recollecting his involvement in the soundtrack in August 2008, was adamant that Michael Jackson had nothing to do with the final product, but went on to say that he was not responsible for the bulk of the soundtrack as Roger Hector claimed, but only a handful of his tracks made it into the final product, most exclusive to Sonic & Knuckles[15].

When locked onto Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles creates Sonic 3 & Knuckles. When this occurs, the miniboss and Knuckles themes (and most of the jingles) from Sonic 3 are replaced with their Sonic & Knuckles counterparts, most of which were composed by Drossin. So in this context, some Sonic 3 tracks were replaced by Drossin's compositions, but the true reasoning for why remains unclear.

Cirocco Jones

A discography of another musician (or "music consultant") 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"[16]. While "levels 2 & 3" could be referring to Hydrocity Zone and Marble Garden Zone, respectively, it could easily be referring to prototype level ordering, or indeed the order in which the group composed music.

Correspondence between him and Sonic Retro members has revealed that him and the other composers spent "countless hours" working with Michael, while trying to make sure it fit Sega's needs. He also revealed that there may be a lawsuit going on or about to go on as Sega owes them money.[17]

Other composers

In addition to Brad Buxer and Cirocco Jones, other credited composers are known to have worked alongside Michael Jackson in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Robert Green "Bobby" Brooks was working with Michael and his siblings as an audio engineer, possibly from as early as their Motown years. Darryl Ross was also an engineer working with the star, Geoff Grace a composer, and Doug Grigsby III produced some of Jackson's material during this time period. All four were involved in the creation of Michael Jackson's next album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I which released in 1995, and none are known to have previously worked in video games (or indeed since in most cases).

Sonic & Knuckles Collection

In 1997 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were brought to Windows PCs in the form of Sonic & Knuckles Collection.

In this edition of the game, six of the tracks (Carnival Night, IceCap, Launch Base, the credits to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Knuckles' theme in Sonic 3 and the Competition menu) have entirely different compositions, and the Mini-Boss theme is always the Sonic & Knuckles version, with the slot for the Sonic 3 version being replaced with an entirely different (and unused) song. The reasoning for this has never been clearly explained, and has not applied to subsequent Mega Drive re-releases of the game(s).

Initially it was believed that these new songs were composed to be replacements to avoid rights issues, however as these tracks are present in the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (prototype; 1993-11-03) people have speculated that the PC version may have been in simultaneous development as the Sega Mega Drive version. It is possible that the compositions in the PC/Prototype were what was originally planned before Michael Jackson's team was introduced, and only the development team working on the Sega Mega Drive version got the compositions produced by Michael Jackson's music team.

Audio similarities

While it has yet to be confirmed which tracks were influenced by Michael Jackson, there are definitely some clues left in the game.

Knuckles' theme

The 4-bar swinging hiphop beat that plays when Knuckles comes on-screen, one conveniently replaced in Sonic & Knuckles and the PC release of the game, contains samples that sound identical to "Blood on the Dance Floor".

Carnival Night Zone

Both acts of Carnival Night Zone share similarities to "Jam", most notably in the use of a horn-based "downwards fall" (played directly before Heavy D's rap in the Jackson song):

Michael Jackson Jam and Carnival Night Zone comparison.png

(identical notes between the two songs are highlighted in red)

The final note in the sequence is accompanied by a distorted audio sample taken directly from the song "Jam", played on the YM2612's DAC channel. This sample is located in the Sonic 3 ROM. The poor fidelity of the sample playback on the Sega Mega Drive system could be supporting evidence of Brad Buxer's comment in the Black & White interview that Michael Jackson went uncredited as he was unsatisfied with the sound quality.

Ice Cap Zone

Much of the Ice Cap Zone theme was composed by Brad Buxer, as an unreleased 1982 track by new wave band the The Jetzons[18]. "Hard Times" was unheard by the general public until 2008, when it appeared as part of The Complete Jetzons compilation[19].

While it is unlikely Michael Jackson had any direct involvement in this one, a good portion of Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" shares a chord structure similar to that of the first 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 Ice Cap Zone. After the main bassline returns, a keyboard continues to play the Ice Cap chord sequence until the end of the song.

Jackson's "Who Is It" is also very similar to the zone. The keyboard section under the chorus, when sped up, has an almost identical chord structure and texture to that of the Sonic 3 level.

Credits theme

Sonic 3's credits theme is extremely similar to a faster-paced "Stranger In Moscow", another Buxter-Jackson collaboration. 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.

Particularly unusual about this find is that Stranger In Moscow was not released until a full two years after Sonic 3. It has been suggested that the Sonic 3 credits theme may have been a prototype to this song.

Background on SEGA Sound Team and Cube Corp.

Tokuhiko Uwabo

Uwabo has stated that he was responsible for management of the game's sound development, which involved assigning the staff at Sega and contracting other composers. He did not do any work on the sound itself.[17]

Yoshiaki Kashima

In a 2001 interview, he revealed he composed the special stage theme, previously used in SegaSonic Bros., which also happens to have more tracks that made it into later games. He stated that he was unable to go into further detail due to the confidentiality of the information.

I composed a music for "spacial stage". and I work for Sonic3,in the others,too. but sorry.I cannnot tell the detail. because,it's confidential information.

— Yoshiaki Kashima[5]

Masaru Setsumaru

According to Facebook PMs between Setsumaru and Sonic Retro members, he was responsible for sound programming along with Yoshiaki Kashima. He was also responsible for sound effects and arrangement, although not music composition. [17] He has also stated that he felt it was an honor to work on the same project as Michael Jackson.

Tomonori Sawada

Sawada stated in a SoundCloud PM in 2015 that he did not compose Sky Sanctuary's music, previously assumed to be his based on the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 10th Anniversary CD crediting the five Sonic 3 & Knuckles tracks to him, Kashima, and Drossin. He stated that he composed 3's title screen music and some jingles instead. He also said that he is no longer able to tell who did each track anymore, most likely due to him no longer having the documentation.[9] He has been contacted about the prototype's music although he did not respond, possibly due to the confidentiality of such information. It is possible that he composed prototype Ice Cap's music, based on its similarities to Crystal Egg from the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

Masayuki Nagao

Nagao has confirmed he was involved with arrangements and programming, including Hydrocity Zone Act 2. He also "produced" more than half of the songs for the game, which likely means he programmed them. Opus Corp. is mentioned in the credits as Nagao was getting ready to join the company while working on the game.

Jun Senoue

In a 2002 interview, he mentions that the bonus stage tracks were composed by him. However, he is unable to reveal details, due to "so much secret things". When asked on Twitter about who did what for Sonic 3 & Knuckles' music, he simply stated that Sega done all of it, neither going into detail about who did what nor acknowledging the involvement of third parties. [20] In 2010, he stated in a Nintendo Power magazine that he knows "quite a lot" about Jackson's involvement, but cannot disclose it.

Miyoko Takaoka

During correspondence with Takaoka and a fan, she stated she composed the music for Marble Garden Zone and bonus stage music.[4] After being shown the bonus stage music in the game, she did not recognize any of it as hers and believes that her track may have went unused. The same may have been the case for Marble Garden's music too, as some fans familiar with her work do not feel it sounds like her.

Current issues

In the modern age, video game companies have become increasingly wary of re-releasing games in their back catalogue that they may not own the full rights to. The changes seen in Sonic & Knuckles Collection would suggest the music in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 has been presenting a problem since at least 1997. Sega is not thought to have been challenged on the use of Sonic 3's music, but it remains a thorny issue to this day.

No subsequent Sonic game has ever revisited Carnival Night, Ice Cap or Launch Base Zone. Sonic Generations and Sonic Mania avoid these levels, and likewise, the music accompanying Knuckles or the mini boss has never been heard outside of Sonic 3. The lone exception is Lego Dimensions, which included Carnival Night and Ice Cap but sidestepped the issue by not licensing any music from the Mega Drive titles, opting instead to compose new soundalike tracks for all the zones. Curiously, however, some of the replaced Sonic 3 jingles have turned up in newer games (such as the title screen and 1-up theme), which would suggest Sega owns the rights to those, but a game like Sonic Pocket Adventure, whose entire soundtrack is lifted from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles has no signs of the so-called Jackson tracks.

Despite being offered by Christian Whitehead, Sega chose not to offer remastered mobile versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 in a similar manner to the 2013 releases of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Likewise while other mobile versions of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 were commissioned, none were released for Sonic 3.

Sonic 3 is less widely available than its Mega Drive counterparts - while included where it is expected (e.g. Sonic Jam or Sonic Mega Collection), it is often neglected in budget Mega Drive consoles made by AtGames, and is missing from the 2018 release of Sega Mega Drive Classics, despite virtually every other first-party Mega Drive game making an appearance.

There is no concrete evidence that the music holds Sonic 3 back, however there have been similar cases where the publisher has been reluctant to re-release games that may present legal issues. Nintendo's Earthbound on the Super NES is one such example - the Virtual Console release was held back for years because much of the game's soundtrack samples popular songs from The Beatles and elsewhere.

References


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