Composers: Michael Jackson for Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Sega and Michael Jackson.  Yep.  Michael Jackson officially licensed and aided in the creation of Moonwalker, a game based on the 1988 film.  Here’s an arcade sample of gameplay:

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Yes.  That’s a bunch of Michael Jackson tunes arranged for an arcade machine.  Yes.  This is a beat-em-up.  And yes, Michael Jackson had a lot of involvement with the treatment of the game and music as it was adapted.  The music is VERY true to Jackson’s originals.  It’s difficult to know exactly how much involvement Jackson had with the process- there’s really no documentation.  Some say that Sega sound programmer Hiroshi Kubota assisted him.  I can’t confirm this officially.  And no one can ask MJ because, well… sniff…

Anyhow, Ken Horowitz, of Sega-16.com, talks about Michael Jackson and Sega in his article “Sega Legends:  Michael Jackson and Sonic 3“:

Former technical director Scott Bayless, who many of you may know as the fellow casually holding the Sega CD in the famous nighttime beach ad, once gave him a tour of the company offices. “He’d already signed the Moonwalker deal with Sega,” Bayless recently told Retro Gamer magazine, “and they were touring him around the Redwood City studio. I spent about a half hour showing him all kinds of techie stuff we were doing, and not once did he ever comment or make eye contact; he just kind of stood there with about fifteen of his minions around him.” Bayless then recalls how Jackson’s demeanor suddenly changed completely when they arrived at where Sega recorded its game music. “When we finished there we walked him over to the sound studio, which was just down the hall. Suddenly there was this new person in the room; it was uncanny. Jackson came to life like someone had flipped a switch. It was obvious that the only thing he was excited about was the music.”

There’s a lot of unconfirmed rumors and speculation surrounding Michael Jackson and Sega in general- mostly the theory that he wrote the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3.  If you read Mr. Horowitz’s full article, it will talk about that in great detail.  I don’t want to steal his thunder.  It’s an excellent read.  Trust me.

The game music was adapted for Sega’s other consoles too.  Here’s “Beat It” Sega Genesis:

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And here’s “Smooth Criminal” on Sega Master System (poor poor Master System…):

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Lastly, using Sega’s Sega System 18 arcade board (I definitely plan on highlighting this iconic board down the line), here’s “Bille Jean”:

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Sega’s sound chips were built for his music.

Though Jackson has passed, we still have his music and his influence.  This game is also part of his legacy, though overlooked.  I hope you found this informative or at least, just rocked out to the music.  Please leave comments.  :D

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

5 responses to “Composers: Michael Jackson for Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • Frank Mendez

    “Some say Sonic the Hedgehog music composer Hiroshi Kubota assisted him.”

    First, Hiroshi did not compose any music for any game in the Sonic series. He did, however, arrange Masato Nakamura’s MIDI demos into something the YM2612+SN76489 could play.

    Second, as for him and MJ, he only arranged the Genesis port (and wrote all the non MJ tracks for the game.) The arcade arranger is unknown.

    MJ did compose music for Sonic 3 though, as I’ve conversed with his team members and confirmed it.

    • classicalgaming

      I meant to say that Hiroshi was a sound programmer- that’s my mistake and fixed. A lot of my original errors on this website were completely based off confusing programmers with composers- VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. Thanks for pointing it out.

      As for MJ, it would appear since writing this article that there’s even MORE compelling evidence that confirms MJ’s involvement. I didn’t want to get into the issue completely as I had no direct source (which I mentioned in the article). Regardless, it would be awesome to think that MJ directly composed the music for Sonic 3!

      • Frank Mendez

        Yup! He was directly involved in composing most of the Sonic 3 level BGM. (along with 4-5 others) Thing is, is that the scandal broke out around the same time as this, and therefore his team and Sega thought it would be best to drop his name altogether from a game meant for kids.

  • CWalois

    Just an update to your link on the fascinating subject of MJ & Sonic 3 — the article is now at http://www.sega-16.com/2009/05/sega-legends-michael-jackson-sonic-3/.

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