In the “a broken clock is right at least twice a day” category, it seems one crazy Internet conspiracy theory has recently been proven true: Michael Jackson provided uncredited musical contributions to the 1994 Sega video game Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
The theory has been knocking around on forums, YouTube comparison videos and even a few legitimate news sites for years, with people primarily pointing to three pieces of Sonic 3 music: The Ice Cap Zone theme, the end-credits music and the Carnival Night Zone. The most compelling musical similarity is between the Sonic end-credits music and Jackson’s “Stranger in Moscow” from HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (released two years after Sonic 3) — even the most skeptical ears should concede a sonic similarity there. The connection between the Ice Cap Zone bass line and various other Jackson material — “Smooth Criminal,” “Who Is It” and/or the unreleased “Hard Times” — may be in the ear of the beholder. As for Carnival Night Zone and Dangerous‘ “Jam,” there’s a similarity in the breakdown, but perhaps not enough to convince diehard skeptics.
But as of January 2016, a deep dive on Huffington Post from Todd Van Luling seems to have proven there’s a good deal of truth behind the conspiracy theory.
Before going any further, we should note that Sega — via HuffPo — still denies Jackson’s involvement on Sonic 3, although the game’s credited composers are finally confirming otherwise more than 20 years later.
The story is fairly convoluted but well worth reading. The gist is that former Sega exec Roger Hector, who worked on Sonic 3, confirmed Michael Jackson reached out to Sega in the early ’90s to express his admiration for the new Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Sega, which released several titles of Jackson’s Moonwalker video game, invited him to visit their office (giving us, at the very least, this incredible photo of an adult man posing with another adult dressed as a furry, fictitious hedgehog.
After the in-office meeting, Jackson was provided with a demo of the game and invited to compose music for it. “He took it from there and started making music,” Hector said. After receiving music from Jackson’s team for Sonic 3, Hector recalled, “I was really impressed with how much of a signature Michael Jackson sound there was in this, and yet, it was all new.”
This is also confirmed by three of the six composers listed in the Sonic 3 credits: Doug Grigsby, Cirocco Jones and Brad Buxer, the latter of whom was Jackson’s musical director. Buxer — who worked on the Dangerous album — told HuffPo how Jackson would beatbox and deliver other musical cues to his team, who turned that music into tracks for Sonic 3. “I was working with Michael on the Dangerous album,” Buxer recalled, “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 that’s two sources — one formerly of Jackson’s camp, another formerly of Sega’s — confirming Jackson worked on Sonic 3 music. So why the controversy?
Around the time Sonic 3 was in production, Jackson was hit with child molestation allegations. Some have theorized this caused Sega to scrub his name from the project, while others speculate Jackson wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality of video game-compressed music. Those competing theories — both espoused on online forums dating back years — pop up in HuffPo’s piece from opposing sources.
“Michael wanted his name taken off the credits if they couldn’t get it to sound better,” Buxer said. Hector remembered it differently, indicating the scandal led to the deal’s disintegration: “We had to replace it all,” Hector insisted of Jackson’s music.
The man Hector hired to replace Jackson’s music, however, tells a different story. Howard Drossin entered the picture before the game was finished to change up some of the music, but confirmed to HuffPo he didn’t rewrite the entire score. When the HuffPo writer pointed out how some of the Sonic themes echo Jackson song structures, Drossin “insisted he hadn’t written” those cues.
“Oh, it did get in the game,” Grigsby said of Jackson’s music. “The stuff we handed in, the stuff we did, made it. To. The game.”
So there you have it…maybe. Sega denies that Jackson’s music is part of Sonic 3, but first-hand testimony from the composers behind the game contradicts that — and supports what sharp-eared online obsessives have been postulating for years.
Hey, weirder online conspiracy theories (Nintendo burying E.T. video game cartridges) have been confirmed before. And unless we get a statement from Jackson via Ouija board, it seems this well-reported piece will be the final word on an urban legend-turned-probable fact.