Sesame Street's parodies almost always have original melodies, as PBS shows do not have the budget to license song rights.
"Cereal Girl" was a pastiche of Madonna's "Material Girl", using the same beat and chord progression with a different melody. "It's Hip to Be a Square" is of course, a near-note-for-note parody of Huey Lewis and the News' "Hip to be Square." Billy Idle - "Rebel L" is suspiciously similar to Billy Idol - "Rebel Yell." Bruce Stringbean's "Born to Add" and "Barn in the USA" spoof Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA," respectively.
Sesame Street's composers being the creative people they were, sometimes these deviated pretty far from their sources. "Kids Just Love to Brush" was clearly based on "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", but really doesn't sound much like it at all. And word has it that Cookie Monster's famous rap "Healthy Food" was based on... "Walk This Way"!
The "Monsterpiece Theater" theme is slightly different from the "Masterpiece Theater" theme it is meant to parody, which was unnecessary since the "Masterpiece Theater" theme is public domain.
Sesame Workshop (then Children's Television Workshop) almost got sued by ATV Music over "Letter B," their parody of The Beatles' "Let It Be". Then Michael Jackson bought the Lennon/McCartney catalog, so CTW only paid $50 (which came from composer Chris Cerf's pocket).
The song Elmo pounds on the piano at the end of Elmo's World sketches is eight notes (in the end) away from "Jingle Bells," with a different word repeated 28 times.
In one jogging montage, they played music suspiciously similar to, but legally different from, Vangelis' main theme to Chariots of Fire.
Possibly unintentional, but the song at the end of the "Journey to Ernie" segments is, especially in the final bars, quite similar to the ending theme from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
"Monster In The Mirror" sounds like a slower version of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and Kiki Dee.
Bill Nye the Science Guy featured parodies of pop songs with scientific lyrics for its music videos, in addition to Suspiciously Similar Songs to several tunes, e.g. La Bamba, the 007 theme, Wipe Out (the surfing song)...
MythBusters has a number of songs that fit this trope, most blatantly an off-key version of Queen's "Keep Yourself Alive."
And some of the previews featured a parody of Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science," with the lyrics "We're Bustin' It with Science."
And the music during "Sonic Boom Breaks Glass" is designed to evoke "Danger Zone" from Kenny Loggins (from Top Gun.)
Their theme song sounds like (read: is all but identical to) "Legs" by ZZ Top.
Another incidental music sounds similar to "La Grange."
They did a Suspiciously Similar Song to Indiana Jones theme for "Motorcycle Flip," but Adam also sings a bar from it during the episode.
The Rutles, a fictional band with its own telemovie back in the late 1970s and several "reunion tours" since, have plenty of Beatles sound-alike tunes in their repertoire (not surprising, since they're a Beatles parody), all composed by Neil Innes and Eric Idle. However, EMI thought they didn't sound different enough, and, one lawsuit later, several of the songs on the original soundtrack were (and still are) legally credited to Innes, Lennon, and McCartney.
"Ouch!" and "Get Up and Go," in particular, are pretty blatant swipes of their Beatle counterparts, "Help!" and "Get Back."
Which has led to a severe case of Misattributed Song, because due to these credits, a whole lot of people think Rutles songs are "lost" Beatle bootlegs.
Absolutely true — the generally shoddy mid-1970s bootleg Indian Rope Trick even listed "Cheese and Onions" as a lost Lennon demo. To be fair, Innes' take on Lennon's vocal style is uncanny.
Sometimes this happens when a TV show is released on DVD and the production company didn't manage to secure the license to the original music note In the U.S., one has to contract separately for the right to use a song for broadcast purposes and the right to include the song for distribution purposes. Even ten years ago, who would have thought consumers would spend good money on box sets of old TV shows?. For instance, the original DVD release of Married... with Children uses an instrumental opening song that's very reminiscent of, but not identical to, Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage"... unlike the original broadcasts, which actually did use Sinatra's song. The newer releases do retain the song, however.
Also, the show used Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" rather frequently. The DVD used Suspiciously Similar Songs.
One episode of Zoey 101 had the "Macalana," which was nearly identical to the Macarena.
A possible lampshading occurred on The Colbert Report — Stephen requested to use "Back in Black" for a segment intro, but was told that Jon had said no, as that was The Daily Show's thing.
The Banana Splits theme shares a notable refrain with Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" (as pointed out on Ed.) Marley and his family were in the United States (Wilmington, Delaware to be exact) for an extended visit with his mother in the summer of 1969, when The Banana Splits were in the middle of their original run. Given that he had some young children who might have been Saturday morning TV viewers, it's within the realm of possibility that he'd heard their theme song and had a bout of cryptomnesia later on.
Comedian Frank Sidebottom once performed a sketch in which he claimed that 'after the first six notes you have to pay royalties'. He proceeded to perform a cover-version of the Star Wars theme tune, with a handful of notes played a semitone off at the times in the tune where they would sound the most agonizingly painful.
Doctor Who and The X-Files- the "oooh wee ooooh" of the former and the whistling in the latter sound very much similar.
Similarly, a Saturday Night Live sketch featured Jon Lovitz as the host of a program presenting an unauthorized adaptation of Disney's "Snow White," who explains that it's legally not plagiarism as long as every third note is different.
In another Saturday Night Live sketch, fake soap opera The Californians uses a poor man's version of America's "Ventura Highway" during the between-scene bumpers. For those who recognize what the music is supposed to sound like, it also serves as a nice little in-joke... Since the main theme of the sketch revolves around stereotypical surfer-accented blondes making repeated references to the Los Angeles street grid/highway system.
Used for laughs in Father Ted, when Ted and Dougal write Ireland's Eurovision Song Contest entry using new lyrics and an old Eurovision song track's tune, which they assume to be too obscure to be widely known. They assume incorrectly.
A particularly uninspired workover of Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1" is used in two graduation-themed episodes of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, which was completely unnecessary, as the march is in the Public Domain.
Predictably, WCW did this with Randy Savage when he jumped to there.
This is one of TNA's few justified uses of the trope, as it's a remix for Jay Lethal's "Black Machismo" character.
The FLN showings of Iron Chef have had all the music of the Food Network version (originally used in the movie Backdraft of all things), replaced with royalty-free-to-Universal Suspiciously Similar Songs.
The pilot episode of the American game show Bullseye used "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Santa Esmeralda as the theme. When the show made it to air, a new theme with similar instrumentation was used.
Alan Thicke has written Suspiciously Similar Songs to themes for several different game shows:
The 1970s game show Blank Check used Quincy Jones' "Chump Change" as the theme in the pilot episode. After Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions decided to use this theme for its game show Now You See It, Thicke wrote a theme with a similar melody.
Similarly, "Now You See It" itself briefly stopped using "Chump Change" for anything else than the opening, instead going for a doppelganger theme written by Edd Kalehoff. The original was still used in the intro.
After The Joker's Wild stopped using Jean-Jacques Perry and Gershon Kingsley's "The Savers" as its theme, they briefly switched to a Suspiciously Similar Song to the theme, written by Thicke. They later switched to a rearrangement of "The Savers".
The pilot episode of Wheel of Fortune used "Give It One", composed by Maynard Ferguson. When the show made it to air in 1975, the first theme that it used was "Big Wheels", a Thicke composition with similar melody.
One of the prize cues on Wheel in the early days sounded a lot like "Temptation Eyes" by The Grass Roots. Another was the Blank Check theme.
The short-lived 1998 revival of Match Game used a Suspiciously Similar Song to the 1970s theme.
When the Pyramid game show franchise was brought back in 1982 as The New $25,000 Pyramid, it used a theme song that was suspiciously similar to "Tuning Up", the theme that had been used on all 1970s incarnations of the Pyramids. This is actually a subversion, as "Tuning Up" was a piece of stock music that Bob Cobert arranged, and the $25,000 theme was his own composition.
Brazilian TV station Globo reworks songs into opening themes of some programs. The most obvious case is for VideoShow, which is the instrumental bridge for Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough". Their major news show, Jornal Nacional started with an already-existing intrumental, "The Fuzz" but eventually changed to a Suspiciously Similar Song.
They also retooled (just barely) the Peter Gunn theme for "THE BISHOP!"
Listen to RPM's instrumental for a moment. The riffs sound very similar to Metallica's "Fuel" in composition.
Another example from RPM, uses a version of a-ha's "Take On Me" during a Hard-Work Montage.
In Dino Thunder's 9th episode Beneath The Surface, at the end there's a instrumental that is suspiciously like The Black Eyed Pea's "Where Is the Love".
Related to the copyright issues with the MMPR theme, when Tommy fought the iconic Green Ranger during a dream sequence in Dino Thunder's Fighting Spirit, the Dragon Dagger's music was this, because Saban owned that music too.
In the trailers leading up to Operation Overdrive, a song was used that sounded like Rage Against The Machine's "Guerilla Radio."
As in Dino Thunder, when Overdrive did a teamup episode featuring MMPR's Adam plus four rangers from Disney seasons, each fought to theme music from their show...except for Adam. Disney wasn't willing to cut the check to Saban.
The Psych episode "Extradition: British Columbia" uses Suspiciously Similar Songs to the anthem "O Canada", including a rock version and a guitar version.
Alton Brown's Good Eats has an episode called "The Egg Files," which features a tune that sounds quite similar to the theme of, you guessed it, The X-Files.
A suspiciously similar song to the James Bond is used for W's appearances (Herself a parody of Bond's Q).
He also did the main theme in the style of "Tubular Bells" for the episode "Give Peas A Chance", which spoofed The Exorcist.
One Cake Boss trailer used a Suspiciously Similar Song to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger".
Modern Marvels episode '70s Tech had a segment comparing the speed of a calculator to that of a slide rule. The background music playing was a rendition of the Jeopardy theme.
Gerbert had a scene in which the title character gets upset over losing a spelling bee. The very dramatic music playing during this scene sounds like a Suspiciously Similar Song to the Twin Peaks theme.
The game "Safecrackers" on The Price Is Right originally used The Pink Panther theme when introduced, but two different songs replaced it, the latter being a Suspiciously Similar Song.
A episode of The UFO Files has a just-off version of The X-Files theme.
When the 2000s version of Ripley's Believe It or Not! aired a segment on a man spinning 25 basketballs at once, they played a Suspiciously Similar Song to the Harlem Globetrotters' whistling theme song ("Sweet Georgia Brown") with footage of the team.
The entire soundtrack of The Wayans Bros. consists of these. People who are fans of East Coast hip-hop from the mid-90s will recognize most of the instrumentals played between scenes.
You could easily make a Drinking Game out of this while watching a few hours of HGTV. "Hey, that sounds almost like "All Star" by Smash Mouth! And this sounds almost like that song from Zoolander!"
A Hong Kong period drama has a piece of background music that's really a suspiciously similar instrumental of "I Dreamed a Dream".
The theme tune to America's Got Talent is a simulated version of the theme tune from The X Factor. It must be noted that both shows were created by Simon Cowell.
In one episode of That's So Raven, Raven knocked over a lamp while compulsively dancing to "HER JAM!", which sounded suspiciously like the understandably danceable song "Crazy In Love" by Beyonce.
When something very slick and spy-like is going on in Chuck, an obviously James Bond-like theme tends to play.
Conan had a recurring Audience Game called "Basic Cable Name That Tune"; because they couldn't afford the rights to play the actual songs, the band performs a suspiciously similar version of an actual song with lyrics parodying the originals, and the contestant has to guess what the real song was.
Arrested Development has great fun lampshading this trope in the episode "Making a Stand". The narrator muses, over a series of still photographs played in lieu of interesting footage, that no matter what theme music is played underneath, it still isn't very interesting. He comments that they even tried The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine", but they couldn't afford it. Over a subsequent photo montage, an obviously Suspiciously Similar Song called "Yellow Boat" can be heard.
Red Dwarf's original theme tune was a variant of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Also, Ace Rimmer's leitmotif is a clear version of Take My Breath Away. Meanwhile, the theme tune used from the third series onwards contains a riff lifted straight from David Bowie's "Life on Mars".
In Treme, violinist Annie takes a stab at writing her own songs. Her first attempt results in a slightly altered version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."
NCIS Los Angeles season 2, episode 23 featured a recurring tune that sounds a lot like one of the instrumental songs from the video game Legend Of Mana.
Every single MADtv song parody, ever. Likewise, any time the show parodied a movie or a TV show, the background music was suspiciously similar to the music most associated with the parody source.
Which is hardly a surprise as In Living Color did the same thing years before MADtv existed.
The South Korean drama "Myeongweol, the Spy" has Suspiciously Similar Songs to the James Bond theme and the Mission: Impossible theme running in the background during scenes.
In the last episode of Just Cause, when Patrick runs in slow-motion down the street to deliver a document on time, a Suspciously Similar Song to the theme from Chariots of Fire plays.
The fanfare used for the 1990s-early 2000s version of the Paramount Television Vanity Plate is actually a Suspiciously Similar Song to the Star Wars opening theme.
It's actually a remix of the last six notes of the rarely-heard Paramount Pictures theatrical fanfare, but does sound similar.
Which is ironic when Paramount's former ownership of Star Trek is taken into account.
An in-universe example: Jeremy'ssong "Outrageous" sounds a lot like "Firestarter" by The Prodigy if you removed everything musical about it and made a music video full of confusing political "satire".
The opening theme song to Touch sounds quite a bit like Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place". This similarity is practically confirmed by the original closed captions used on the pilot episode (and still present on the Hulu stream); suffice it to say, apparently the version submitted for captioning did use the Radiohead track, before it was overdubbed for the final broadcast.
The first theme song written for Sigmund and the Sea Monsters sounded very similar in some respects to I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (AKA: the famous Coca-Cola "hilltop song"), so much so, that Sid And Marty Kroft were allegedly sued, leading to the creation of the show's second theme song.
WKRP in Cincinnati used a ton of licensed music, but those licenses eventually expired. For syndication and DVD releases, the music was replaced. The new music tends to sound nothing like the original, except when a specific song was central to a plot point or mood. One notable example was at the end of the episode "I Want To Keep My Baby," where Johnny Fever plays James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face." The syndicated version replaces this with an obvious soundalike.
Later (mostly) averted in the Shout Factory DVD release, which reacquired the rights for about 80% of the music, and tried to use more similar substitutes when necessary.
The famously unintelligible closing theme song strongly resembled "China Grove" by The Doobie Brothers.
The theme song to Jeremy Kyle's daytime talk show blatantly copies Kool & The Gang's "Celebration"
BBC One's 2013 "Love Spring" station idents used a Suspiciously Similar Song to The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun".
The song featured in History's 2013 preview trailer sounds a lot like OneRepublic's "Everybody Loves Me". That's because History couldn't get the rights to the OneRepublic song and thus commissioned the company Jingle Punks to come up with something "suspiciously similar". The song on the trailer is titled "Winning Is Everything".
The Hancock's Half Hour episode "The Bowmans" revolves around the recording of a radio drama very obviously based on The Archers, and with a theme tune suspiciously (and appropriately) similar to that series' theme "Barwick Green".
Jeopardy!'s theme song "Think" sounds suspiciously similar to "I'm A Little Teapot".
Horrible Histories lives on this trope. Once an Episode there is a song that is usually a parody of a song with a style that fits the characters, or occasionally a loose pastiche of someone's musical style:
Cleopatra's song is a takeoff of "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga, as a melodramatic fashion-loving queen, and the video uses a Homage Shot to the music video for "Telephone" when we're looking at the people she murdered to get the crown.
The Luddites sing a song very like "Anarchy in the UK" by the Sex Pistols.
The four bad Roman Emperors sing a thinly-veiled version of "Bad" by Michael Jackson.
The Norman family tree is a pastiche of "Knowing Me Knowing You" by ABBA.
The theme from the Sprout series Noodle and Doodle sounds like the minor enemy encounter (i.e. Hammer Bros.) theme from Super Mario Bros. 3.
The old HGTV series Simply Quilts has a theme song that sounds just way too much like R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming".
The theme to American Horror Story sounds like a dark version of the theme to the Austin Powers film series.
The pilot to Marry Me has "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes as its theme song. From the second episode on, it has a vaguely similar generic song that evokes "Home," but most certainly is not.
On Silver Spoons when Michael Jacksonnote actually an In-Universe impersonator Alfonso hires to cover up his Celebrity Lie shows up at the local hangout his bodyguards carry a boombox which is playing a song similar to "Billie Jean."
The Late Show with David Letterman: When it came up during a show that Eagles charge a flat fee of $250,000 for using one of their songs on TV - in order to keep people from using one of their songs on TV - the staff discovers that CBS has the rights to a song similar to "Life in the Fast Lane" and played a little bit of it.
In the Ice Capades special based on Super Mario Bros., the appearance of the eponymous duo is accompanied by a song that sounds kind of like the Mario series theme if you're not paying attention. Oddly, the actual theme was played earlier in the special with no alterations.
Some of the themes in the between-scenes bits on That '70s Show sound quite a bit like popular rock songs from the 1970s. Notably, the "baby baby baby" wail sounds like Led Zeppelin 's "baby, baby, baby do you like it" (from "Misty Mountain Hop"). And there's a riff in the later season that sounds exactly like "Same Old Song and Dance" by Aerosmith.
One Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode plays with this trope as Kimmy has a cassette called Now That Sounds Like Music, a collection of songs where the instrumental is mainly the same but the lyrics are altered drastically (a take-off on soundalike records). Examples include "Hiking on Starlight" ("Walking on Sunshine") and "I'm Freaking Out" ("All By Myself").
The theme song to Video Power sounds like a poor mans version of 3 A.M. Eternal by The KLF.
The Amanda Show: In the first Melody and Thad sketch, the song they sing about the nasty restaurant sounds similar to "Piano Man" by Billy Joel.
In-Universe in Malcolm in the Middle when Malcolm tries to expand on his creative side by composing an emotional melancholy song, which he sings and plays on a guitar in front of his family. The musical genius of the family, Dewey, starts singing "Meow Meow Meow Meow" (the Meow Mix cat food jingle), since the song had the exact same tune.