Michael Jackson probably composed the music for Sonic the Hedgehog – so why is he uncredited?

14 May 2019, 17:13

Did Michael Jackson write the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3?
Did Michael Jackson write the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3? Picture: Getty/Sega

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

There’s a popular theory that Michael Jackson wrote the music for ‘Sonic 3’… but how much truth is there in it? And why isn’t he named in the credits?

As Sonic fans anticipate the release of the shiny live-action remake of Sonic the Hedgehog, it feels timely to shed light on this oddly believable story.

The theory, that Michael Jackson provided uncredited music for 1994 Sega video game, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, has been knocking around for years.

A video on YouTube, likening Sonic’s Carnival Night Zone Act 1 with a clip from Jackson’s song ‘Jam’, was one of the first to share the theory, six years ago. Since then, fan theories have matched the melody from the Sonic ‘End Credits’ theme with Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’, while others have likened the bassline in Ice Cap Zone to that of ‘Smooth Criminal’.

Fan theories aside, as of January 2016, a feature in HuffPost appears to confirm Jackson’s involvement with the soundtrack, saying the late popstar was eventually forced to leave the project in the wake of child abuse allegations against him.

But while many of Jackson’s co-composers, including Brad Buxer and Geoff Grace, are written into the game’s credits, there is no mention of Jackson anywhere.

Most fans and publications, including The Independent and Billboard, agree that Jackson was at least supposed to write the music for Sega’s Sonic 3. But to-date, the Japanese game giant still denies his involvement.

Michael Jackson, rumoured to have written the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, performs on his HIStory World Tour
Michael Jackson, rumoured to have written the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, performs on his HIStory World Tour. Picture: Getty

So, what do we know for sure?

Michael Jackson loved the Sonic games, and in 1993 he reached out to Sega to express his admiration for the franchise.

Roger Hector, a former exec at Sega, confirmed in a 2005 interview that Jackson was invited by the company to visit the Sega Technical Institute, in California. In the early 1990s, Sega had already released several titles of Jackson’s Moonwalker video game.

“He wanted to drop by and say hello,” said Hector. “There was no agenda other than, he really, really liked the game. He enjoyed playing it a lot and he wanted to meet the people behind it.”

It’s believed that Jackson went on to write 41 tracks with his co-composers, including Brad Buxer and Geoff Grace, for the release. One of the game’s sound engineers, Matt Forger, said Jackson also beatboxed on the soundtrack:

“We were recording lots of Michael’s mouth percussion. He’d be laughing, joking, and that kind of infectious attitude would make the work not seem like work. Michael understood that this was for a game, he was in a really up mood whenever we’d be working.”

What went wrong?

Around the time of Sonic production in late 1993, child abuse accusations arose around Jackson. Some, including Hector, have theorised that this led Jackson to be taken off the project; others think Jackson, a notorious perfectionist, left of his own accord because he wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality of the soundtrack.

Buxer, who also played keyboard on Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour, told Michael Jackson fan magazine Black and White: “At the time, games consoles did not allow optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music. 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.”

After Jackson left the project, Howard Drossin was drafted in to save the soundtrack. However, Drossin confirmed to HuffPost that he didn’t rewrite the entire score, saying “there was a lot of music already plugged into it” when he finally started working on the game.

Doug Grigsby, one of the six composers listed in the Sonic 3 credits, said of Jackson’s compositions: “Oh, it did get in the game. The stuff we handed in, the stuff we did, made it. To. The game.”

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – the video game
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – the video game. Picture: Sega

So, did Michael Jackson write the music for Sonic 3?

Clearly, no one is one hundred per cent sure. Sega still denies Jackson’s involvement on the score, but citations from Hector, Forger and the other credited composers seem to suggest otherwise.

Why not take a listen to the soundtrack and decide for yourself...

Sonic the Hedgehog is set for release in cinemas on 27 December 2019.