One of the most persistent anecdotes in the history of video gaming is Michael Jackson's connection with Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It's often been rumoured that he wrote the soundtrack for the game, having enjoyed a strong relationship with Sega during the early '90s. The story goes that when allegations surfaced of misconduct towards minors, Sega removed Jackson from the project to avoid any problems.
A 2016 interview with key Sega staffers addressed this mystery, with former staffer Brad Buxer claiming that Jackson's work remains in the game despite him not being credited. However, there's still that lingering doubt, and other Sega staffers - such as Roger Hector - claim that the soundtrack was entirely re-done.
British author and journalist John Szczepaniak raised the topic with none other than Sonic creator Naoto Ohshima himself back in 2013, and the full interview is being published as part of the third volume of Szczepaniak's superb Untold History of Japanese Game Developers series (we covered Volume 1 and Volume 2 previously).
Ohshima backs up comments made by Sega sound engineer Matt Forger regarding Michael's beatboxing, and even attempts to replicate what a tape submitted by Jackson sounded like. Needless to say, hearing the creator of Sonic mimic Jackson's trademark sounds is the perfect way to start your morning.
Ohshima is of the opinion that Jackson's music didn't make it into the game, echoing Hector's opinion. However, Brad Buxer believes Jackson's music remains in place and that his name was removed from the credits because he wasn't happy with how the songs sounded on the limited audio hardware of Sega's 16-bit console.
John Szczepaniak: Mr Youji Ishii said you had an incredible story regarding Michael Jackson and the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3?
Naoto Ohshima: Michael Jackson was kind enough to make some music for the game. He sent us a demo tape, and we all gathered around to listen to it. And it was music, but… Michael Jackson had made all of it with his mouth. [hums a beat] It was like that, but layer after layer of it, complete with oohs and aahs, a drum track, simulated trumpets - all simply hummed by Michael Jackson. And of course his trademark "Wow!" A multitrack recording in which every track was hummed by Michael Jackson - we could not believe it. Ultimately, due to various incidents which took place, we were not able to use the Michael Jackson songs. But Sega probably still possesses that phantom Michael Jackson tape!
John Szczepaniak: Was there a working prototype with his voiced music?
Naoto Ohshima: I don't know. But even if there was, I'd think it would pale in comparison to the value of a never-released tape of Michael Jackson doing a cappella recordings.
The full interview can be found in Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 3, which is available for order now on Amazon US and Amazon UK. A full list of contents can be found here, and like the previous two volumes, it looks like being an essential purchase thanks to interviews with Henk Rogers (the man who brought Tetris to the west), Kouichi Yotsui (Strider) and an entire chapter that looks at the work of TecnoSoft, Compile, Fupac, and 8ing.
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