It turns out there’s a damn good reason the music in Sonic 3 sounds so familiar. According to some impressive reporting courtesy of Todd Van Luling at The Huffington Post, much of the soundtrack was composed by none other than Michael Jackson, the then-reigning King of Pop, confirming a fan theory that has been circulating since the 90s.
The whole article is well worth a read, but if you just want the Cliff’s Notes version, the story begins when fans first noticed the similarities between Sonic 3 and certain Michael Jackson songs, most notably “Stranger in Moscow“, which lines up eerily well with Sonic 3‘s end credits. They theorized that Michael was an uncredited composer on the soundtrack, keeping the flame alive on various Sonic message boards throughout the years.
Van Luling has finally given credence to the theory, interviewing the Internet sleuths who first noticed and publicized the similarities, as well as the composers who worked on the game and were able to confirm it. Of the six people credited with Sonic 3‘s soundtrack – Brad Buxer, Bobby Brooks, Doug Grigsby III, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace and Cirocco Jones – several were frequent Jackson collaborators, while one – Brad Buxer – was Michael Jackson’s musical director at the time. It would be strange to invite his entire team to work on the soundtrack if you didn’t want Michael to contribute.
In any case, Michael’s involvement isn’t really in dispute. Roger Hector, the head of the secretive studio that developed Sonic 3, confirms that Michael Jackson agreed to work on the game following a tour of the studio sometime around 1991 (Hector’s daughter even served as the guest receptionist during the visit).
So why doesn’t Michael’s name appear in the credits? Hector says that Michael’s music was dropped after child molestation charges first became public in 1993, while Jackson’s team says that the singer asked for his name to be removed because the heavily compressed audio files did not meet his usual musical standard. It’s ultimately a case of he-said-he-said, and I’d guess that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. (Putting Jackson’s name on a children’s entertainment product definitely would have been a little awkward in 1994.)
Either way, this much seems certain: Michael Jackson wrote music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and that music is still present in the finished game. Though Sega’s official stance is that Jackson’s music was scrapped and rewritten, the man they hired to do it – Howard Drossin, a California composer – says that much of the soundtrack was already locked into the game and that he did not write any of the tunes that sound like Michael. The others, meanwhile, insist that fans have been hearing the songs they shipped to Sega, played back exactly as Michael delivered them.
That’s pretty remarkable regardless of your feelings on Michael Jackson. The biggest pop star in the world wanted to work on a video game in 1991, long before that was considered a trendy thing to do (Michael was apparently the driving force and the biggest gamer on the music team). It’s also the rare instance in which a bizarre Internet conspiracy theory turned out to be 100% accurate. It’s been years since I played Sonic 3 and I’ve never lurked in Sonic the Hedgehog forums so this is the first I’m hearing of the theory, but it’s a cool story and the news has to be incredibly gratifying to those who have been there since the beginning.