You may have heard rumors that, once upon a time, SEGA tapped Michael Jackson to contribute to the soundtrack of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. After his molestation scandal, the company supposedly severed all ties with the troubled performer and denied any collaboration efforts. However, speculation arose that the singer’s work did in fact remain in the game, given how closely some of the soundtrack resembled Jackson’s later songs. Today, thanks to a detailed article published by The Huffington Post, we have more firm evidence than ever that Jackson did indeed work on Sonic 3.
In the article, many of the composers who were brought in, to work on the project recalled Jackson’s involvement and the process they underwent to compose the soundtrack. Jackson’s musical director Brad Buxer explained how the project got started:
I was working with Michael on the ‘Dangerous’ album, 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.
So, with a musical team assembled, work began in earnest. Jackson and the team created around 41 tracks for the game with a distinct, cinematic approach that mirrored Jackson’s pop output at the time. Those tracks would later be reworked to fit onto a Genesis cartridge and be reproduced by the console’s sound hardware. Interestingly, sound engineer Matt Forger noted that Jackson was the only genuine gamer in the group:
None of us involved in this were really gamers. Michael was probably the one who did play video games to the greatest extent. So, for the rest of us, we knew Sonic the Hedgehog, that was a pretty well-known thing in terms of popular culture, and video games in general, but Michael really is the core.
Forger continued on to discuss the actual composition process the team underwent:
The process wasn’t as we would normally construct songs for an album or another project of Michael’s. We were recording lots of beatboxing. 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.
Trouble arose, however, when Evan Chandler’s molestation lawsuit went public in September of 1993. Despite the media focusing so heavily on the scandal, composer Doug Grigsby III claimed that the lawsuit never derailed the project or put their work at risk. Around the same time as that lawsuit going public, Jackson’s team sent their finished product to SEGA for inclusion in the game. Former SEGA executive Roger Hector described their output as distinctly Michael:
I was really impressed with how much of a signature Michael Jackson sound there was in this, and yet, it was all new. It clearly had a Michael Jackson sound to it, so that anyone who listened to it would recognize that, gee, that was done by Michael Jackson.
Although the soundtrack was completed, the controversy was not, and Jackson never ended up appearing in the game’s ending credits; why this is the case depends on who you ask. According to Hector, the molestation allegations led SEGA to remove Jackson’s name and music from the game entirely. The composers, however, maintain a different point of view, claiming that Jackson requested his name be removed due to his dissatisfaction with the ability of the Genesis to accurately reproduce the sound of his tracks. Despite this, Grigsby adamantly maintains that their work made it to the final product:
Oh, it did get in the game. The stuff we handed in, the stuff we did, made it to the game.
Whatever the reason for Jackson’s lack of public involvement may be, there is a bit of a happy ending in all of this; according to the article, Buxer visited Jackson at his Neverland Ranch residence several months after Sonic 3‘s release, where the singer was showing off one of the game’s tracks for friends. The Huffington Post article goes even more in-depth on this topic, and you can read it in full here. Though his name is not present in the credits, it seems that we can no longer deny how much Michael Jackson contributed to the legendary soundtrack of Sonic the Hedgehog 3.