What makes a great soundtrack? Is it the soundcard of the system, the game and story that it’s based upon, the composer, or controversy? Well, in the case of Sonic 3 it draws from all of them. As has been the case with all Sonic games, Sonic 3 was rushed in production and had to be sold separate from Sonic & Knuckles – which it is supposed to be united with. When put together, these games make one of the greatest soundtracks ever created, and it was composed by none other than Michael Jackson.
8. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
-Sonic Team & Michael Jackson
Of the controversy, I’ll just cite from the wikipedia article:
Originally, SEGA hired Michael Jackson to compose the music for Sonic 3. When news broke out of a scandal involving Jackson and allegations of child molestation, Sega dropped the deal, although his song writing team still composed the soundtrack (and appear in the credits). There are notable similarities between the music recorded for Sonic 3 and music from Jackson’s previous recorded tracks from the Dangerous album, and a track from the later released HIStory album (which was composed during the time of the game). For example, there is a segment in Carnival Night Zone’s music that sounds like a riff from Michael Jackson’s song, “JAM” (It has also been discovered that a sample in the Sonic 3 ROM played in the Carnival Night Zone music is taken directly from the song JAM), and the credits theme parallels Michael Jackson’s later song, “Stranger in Moscow” (which was written around the time of the game). The Knuckles’ Theme, which seems to use the new jack swing (a style used many times in Jackson’s Dangerous album), which sounds especially similar to that of In the Closet, and later released Ghosts, and Blood on the Dance Floor. In the latter, the drum beats match that after the line “look who got you under, seven inches in.” In addition, the chord progression of “Ice Cap Zone” is similar to the chord progression of Jackson’s “Who Is It,” and the earlier “Smooth Criminal.” Similarities have also been pointed out between the “Azure Lake” theme in Competition mode and Michael Jackson’s track “Black or White.” Both songs use similar chord progressions, although in a different key. It is possible that more of Jackson’s music remained in the game.
Controversy aside, Sonic 3 features some brilliant songs and excellent manipulation of the soundcard. If compared to the SNES, many would call the Sega soundcard inferior, but a soundtrack like Sonic turns that all around. The distorted vocal tracks become useful a punctuation for the beat on the ending to Sonic 3, and the fuzzy high hat on Hydrocity Zone 2 has an almost ‘watery’ tone to it like a wave splash.
Of course in any event I’d praise the ending theme of Sonic 3 because I’d place it as one of the best ever made. The catchy melody and sfx voices are infectious. Not to mention the repeated synth melody line in the background fits perfectly and a similar style is used in the track Sky Sanctuary.
To progress from here is inherently difficult because the soundtrack is loaded with so many standout tracks that to pick one seems unfair. But for my next I’ll pick out Launch Base Zone, which is the last level in Sonic 3. The track features a jazzy shifting beat, a dominating bass line, a repeating voice track, and some cool woodwind work at the end of measures. This track stands out to me so much because the beat and bass are more prominent than a strong melody – which you see more on tracks like Angel Island or Azure Lake (A VS course).
I have, until now ignored one of the strongest features of Sonic soundtracks: the boss themes, and boy does this game have a good one. The standard Robotnik theme for 3 is pretty good, but the Doomsday battle theme, is well… aptly named. It’s fast paced, epic, and it really has an end of the world feel to it.
The final song I’ll pick from this powerful list has always been my favorite from the series: Sky Sanctuary. Just the lead melody of this song, with its epic and final tone is very powerful. Of course, there’s at least 3 layers behind it including the bass line. Also the image of Knuckles making a last, almost dying stand to help Sonic foil Robotnik is also a big factor too.