The Simpsonshangs a lampshade on the trope when, at the opening ceremonies of a nationwide Spelling Bee, celebrity moderator George Plimpton announces, "And now, our unlicensed knockoff of the Olympic anthem."
It also played this one straight, in quite a lot of episodes. Who can forget "Springfield, Springfield," or the whole of the episode "Simpsoncalifragalisticexpiali(annoyed grunt)tious"? The latter was a parody of Mary Poppins, and had some of the best of these you're likely to see anywhere - particularly Barney's version of "Feed the Birds" ("Buy Me a Beer") and the family's version of "Spoonful of Sugar' ('Cut Every Corner").
And "The President Wore Pearls," an Whole Plot Reference of Evita. Also lampshaded in the closing subtitles, which insist the producers (as advised by their lawyers) "have never heard of a musical based on the life of Eva Peron."
The end of "Life on the Fast Lane" parodies the end of An Officer and a Gentleman; you have to listen very carefully to the BGM to notice it isn't really "Up Where We Belong".
The rambling song Homer sang in hopes of becoming a food critic was based around West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty".
Then there's "See My Vest", Mr. Burns' PETA-unfriendly ripoff of Beauty and the Beast's "Be Our Guest".
In turn, "Be Our Guest" resembles the titular song from Me and My Girl, and the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation version has an interlude similar to Jacques Offenbach's "Can Can".
"Lady Bouvier's Lover" closes with "The Sound of Grandpa", a knockoff of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence."
"Flaming Moe's" has a very funny parody of the Cheers theme.
The James Bond parody couch gag uses an obvious knock-off of its famous opening theme.
The episode where Homer becomes a hippy replaces the end theme with the bass and drums from Tomorrow Never Knows, with a sitar playing the Simpsons theme on top - several years before Giles Martin played the vocals and sitar of Within You Without You over the same, causing the Simpsons version to sound like a Suspiciously Similar Song version of that.
Several early episodes had a bit of incidental music that was a tweaked version of Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood" from Peer Gynt; it was used to in the same manner as Grieg's original, to denote the dawning of a new day. Since the composition was in the public domain when those episodes were produced, it remains unclear why they didn't use the Grieg original. Even more confusingly, the 8th Season episode "Bart Carny" does actually use the original, untweaked "Morning Mood".
"They'll Never Stop The Simpsons", the closing song from the Clip Show "Gump Roast", lyrically parodiesBilly Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" but uses a different melody.
"Thank God, It's Doomsday" has "Who Got Their Haircut?", a parody of the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out"
Family Guy used to do this in its early seasons — e.g. "Give it Up" from the toad-licking one, which was a pastiche of "You're the One That I Want" from Grease. Lately, however, they've been going with straight lyrical parodies.
The apotheosis: Peter singing about his Diplomatic Immunity with "Can't Touch Me!", which includes the line "so Hammer you can't sue!" while talking to an animated MC Hammer.
"Can't Touch Me" used a Suspiciously Similar Version of the music. However, the show has more recently been able to get the rights to almost any music they want; one aversion occurred when they couldn't get the rights to the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon theme, so they had Peter sing the Batman TV show theme (owned by Fox), replacing "Batman" with "Spider-Man". It was actually much funnier that way.
The original MC Hammer song also uses the same bass line as "Superfreak".
The Season 3 episode "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" has Peter crooning a song called "I Need a Jew", which sounds suspiciously like "When You Wish Upon a Star", from Disney's Pinocchio. The publishers of the Disney song apparently thought so, too, as they unsuccessfully sued Family Guy producer Seth MacFarlane and composer Walter Murphy for copyright infringement.
In the episode "Love Blactually", Brian dresses up as Snoopy for a costume party. When Peter demands that he "do the dance", Brian complies, accompanied by a Suspiciously Similar Version of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy", the famous PeanutsBootstrapped Theme.
In "Saving Private Brian", the music in the US Army commercial is The suspiciously similar version of the intro to Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me".
The "I'm A Tumor" song in "Petarded" is a suspiciously similar version of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus". Of course, The Simpsons did it first, using the same tune as the basis for "Dr. Zaius" in "A Fish Called Selma".
Histeria!, an educational cartoon about history, parodied a lot of songs with similar, but original, melodies. In the episode on Teddy Roosevelt, adapted versions of "Wooly Bully" (as "Bully Bully") and "Ghostbusters" (as "Trustbuster") were both used, altered enough to be free of royalties.
Doug's theme song sounds a lot like 'Little Bitty Pretty One' by Thurston Harris.
Doug also used suspiciously similar versions of the Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, for Race Canyon, Superman's Theme Tune for Quailman, the James Bond theme for Smash Adams, the Mission Impossible theme (in Doug's Secret Song when Porkchop is sneaking into Bebe's house) and a knockoff of "U Can't Touch This" in "Doug Can't Dance" (starts after Mr. Dink stubs his toe), among others.
Jimmy Neutron does this all the time with their montage sequences. One notable one is a couple notes off from "Hey Ya" by Outkast.
Another notable, and rather obscure, one is a knock-off of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" (heard in a number of classic Looney Tunes cartoons) in the episode "Return of the Nanobots," during a montage where the Nanobots delete everyone in Retroville (and we even briefly cut away a couple of times to the robots dancing to the music!)
In another episode, the "Donut Boy" theme song sounds very similar to (and is likely a reference to) the theme from Shaft.
Phineas and Ferb, episode "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem!": Mr. Fletcher, practicing as Max Modem, plays a riff on a synthesizer that sounds a lot like the intro to "Bloody Tears" from the Castlevania series.
The Perry the Platypus theme sounds an awful lot like the song "Secret Agent Man."
"Meatloaf Surprise" features a song that starts off sounding a lot like "Wonderwall" by Oasis, except it's about the singer's love of meatloaf.
In "Meapless in Seattle", the brothers and friends go to Seattle, where they're greeted by a guitar riff that's suspiciously similar to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The 2012 syndicated version of this show uses a theme sounding suspiciously similar to the Disney Channel version but instrumental.
Chowder has done this twice so far. In the episode "Grubble Gum", where Chowder's gigantic, all-consuming wad of gum starts picking up everything in its path: the background music, appropriately enough, is a lawyer-friendly version of the Katamari Damacy theme. The episode "Sniffle Ball" also has one scene blatantly parodying the classic Super Mario Bros. fight with Bowser, to the tune of a variant on the classic underground theme.
The sleepeating episode uses the first few notes of "Thriller".
Another episode involving Schnitzel's obvious Bruce Lee parody used an equally-obvious and suspiciously similar version of the song "Eye of the Tiger".
And in "Sing Beans", when Schnitzel is playing the steel drum, it sounds EXACTLY like Target's (Australia) "Make Me Happy" aka 100% Happy ad campaign jingle.
There is a recurring theme that often plays when a character is sneaking around, that sounds like the Pink Panther theme. It reuses the first same ten notes.
An early sketch in Robot Chicken features Voltron in a dance-off against a Robeast to "Work It Out On The Floor", an obvious parody of DMX's "Get It On The Floor". On the DVD version and all future airing, the song is replaced with a horribly generic, lawyer-friendly take on the song.
During their "Greatest American Hero" parody, the theme song is "Believe it or don't I'm flying around."
Used in-series when a sketch about the Libertarian Party have them needing to use the suspiciously similar version of various songs because they can't afford the real ones. Such as "Airborn mini-dirt" (Dust in the Wind) and "We are the Victors" (We are the Champions). They still got sued for "Friend choo-choo" (Love Train).
A large amount of the music used for Robot Chicken are suspiciously similar versions of many popular tunes from movies, television shows, and even video games. This makes sense as parodies are a big part of Robot Chicken.
The Teletoon-animated seasons of Johnny Test use their own theme song, which is a Suspiciously Similar Song version of... the original Johnny Test theme song (from when the series was animated by Warner Bros.). The "same franchise as the original music" deal strikes again!
Also occurs on the Cartoon Network broadcast version.
And the Netflix Watch Instantly releases.
Incidentally, while the original Johnny Test theme sounds highly styled after your average top 40 rock band, the second series theme song is actually a suspiciously similar Version of "American Idiot".
One episode of the Angry Beavers featured a suspiciously similar version of "Say You'll Be There" by the Spice Girls.
Futurama does some almost indistinguishable please-don't-sue-us versions of songs like "Happy Birthday To You" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - the latter has to be listened to very, very closely. The excuse in the director's commentary was 'we thought it'd be alright because the songs would have changed over the years'.
Fry lampshades this during the former by singing "And you smell like one, too!", out of context from the Captain Ersatz version, but in the style of the real song. Of course, that line is not an official part of the song, so there's no copyright violation.
Drawn Together had some songs like this, both on the show, and some on the DVD releases to clear royalties. One DVD example was in the episode "Dirty Pranking Number 2", with the song "This Is Our Version", a song that sounds like "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", the original song that was on the TV broadcast. Another example that occurred on the show was in the episode, "Foxy vs. The Board of Education" with the song "Board of Education", a song that sounds like "I'm Just a Bill" from School House Rock.
Superjail!—as explicitly pointed out by the bumps on [adult swim]—could not get the rights to "Love Shack", so the Warden sings the royalty-free, lawyer-friendly, not-gonna-get-sued-for-it "Party Bar" during the episode where they build a bar in the jail.
The episode "Combaticus" features parodies of both "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's theme, as well as the song "Shenhua" from the video game Shenmue.
For The Little Rascals' Christmas Special, a 1979 animated holiday special featuring Our Gang, the producers didn't get the rights to use Leroy Shields' classic theme music, so the special's music composer wrote a suspiciously similar Version of it.
Pretty much the entire soundtrack to the The Powerpuff Girls episode "Meet the Beat-Alls" is suspiciously similar versions of (you guessed it) songs by The Beatles, including "A Hard Day's Night", "Eleanor Rigby", "Across the Universe", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and "The Ballad of John and Yoko".
The long-awaited Daria DVD set occasionally opts for suspiciously similar versions in place of the more generic cues that comprise the majority of the music. Technically averted with Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - MTV had apparently tried to license the original recording due to how important it was to the episode it appeared in, but Lauper no longer allows the song to be licensed and they were forced record a cover version (since Mr. DeMartino actually sings the official lyrics).
Sym-Bionic Titan has an interesting version of this trope in the episode "Roar of the White Dragon". When Mike Chan/White Dragon shows up at the school, we hear some music that sounds suspiciously like the song by the Teriyaki Boyz called "Tokyo Drift (Fast and the Furious)". Compare the two here and here. Fitting, but still weird.
There was once a recurring ocarina riff during confrontation scenes, modeled closely on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And in "One Good Turn", the sting when Bill and Ben meet face to face is basically the Dragnet theme.
While on the subject of trains, the theme from Chuggington shares some similarities with "I Want Candy" by The Strangleloves.
The title theme to The Mask is a suspiciously similar song to one of the songs from the movie
An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures featured a parody of Super Mario Bros. called Super Pluckio Bros. which played over a suspiciously similar version of the overworld theme of the original Super Mario Bros. game. Adding to this was the fact that sound effects from the actual game were actually used in the episode.
Superman: The Animated Series - its Awesome Music theme bears a striking resemblance to a sped-up version the Aaron Copland masterpiece "Fanfare for the Common Man" melded with bits the John Williams theme from Superman: The Movie. Given that the series was heavily influenced by the John Byrne era Superman (Clark is the real person, Superman is his disguise, and Clark sees himself as a perfectly normal person who happens to have extraordinary powers), this probably wasn't unintentional.
Some folks on YouTube noticed the similarity between The Smurfs theme song and the scatting melody of the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold", both of which came out in 1981.
The episode "Smurfing For Ghosts" uses a tune that sounds very similar to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters", while the cartoon special "The Smurfic Games" uses one that's similar to Vangelis' Chariots of Fire theme tune.
The "This is It!" theme from The Bugs Bunny Show and other television broadcasts of the Looney Tunes shorts sounds similar to the first theme tune from The Flintstones.
There's a background song on Rugrats that sounds a lot like Colonel Bogey March.
The theme to Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures is performed a cappella in a manner silimar to the original Mighty Mouse Playhouse theme, only duplicating the note structure of the line "Here I come to save the day."
In the Ben 10: Omniverse episode "Jolt from the Past", when Ben challenges Rook to find him some opportunities for heroics, the resulting On Patrol Montage is to a tune that sounds a lot like the intro to "Holding Out For A Hero" by Bonnie Tyler.
Largely averted by Regular Show, where the creators typically manage to secure song clearances. In one such notable exception, a soundalike of "Subdivisions" by Rush plays while Mordecai, Rigby and Skips are on a car trip.
The chorus of the theme song to Lilo & Stitch: The Series, "Aloha E Komo Mai", sounds similar to the one of the Mardi Gras song "Iko Iko", except it is a bit sped up and is at a higher pitch.
A rare example of this used with a song in a show itself-the beginning of the song "I'm Skating" from Magic Adventures of Mumfie sounds like a slowed and pitched down version of "The Beginning of Things"!
The theme to X-Men sounds like Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight".
The theme to Silverhawks sounds like "The Edge of a Dream" by Steven McClintock. Both even have an awesome-sounding guitar solo.
The ChalkZone episode "Lost in Chalk" has a sound-alike of "Get Ready for This" by 2 Unlimited playing during the fair...which was recycled from an episode of The Fairly OddParents, "Totally Spaced Out" (Guy Moon, the composer for OddParents also composed the first two seasons and the first half of season three of ChalkZone, and often re-used background music from the former show for the latter)
"The Label Police" includes a sound-alike of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse".
"Rise and Shine" from Sofia the First sounds similar to "When Will My Life Begin?" from Tangled.
The music playing at Iron Will's seminar in "Putting Your Hoof Down" is actually Eye of the Tiger with one note changed.
In the same episode, when Fluttershy realizes she's become a monster, the Lonely Man theme from The Incredible Hulk starts playing.
During the scene in the episode "It's About Time" where Twilight Sparkle meets a future version of herself, the background music is suspiciously similar to "I am the Doctor" from Series 5 and 6 of Doctor Who.
"One Bad Apple" features an A-Team Montage while the CMC are building the second float, down to the music.
A parody of the Bonanza theme is often used in scenes relating to the Apple family.
The song Sonic, Tails & Knuckles perform in Battle Of The Boy Bands sounds a bit like Can't Stop by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"Late Night Wars" has a piece that is most definitely not Stayin' Alive by The Bee Gees.
Very fittingly, the theme song of Fairly OddParents sounds very similar to "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin, especially the first few bars.
Then of course, Fairy Idol featured a song by Norm the Genie, also sounds similar, right down to the motif and jazzy style.
The Wander over Yonder episode "The Catastrophe" has Wonder being addicted to cute cat videos. One of them is a clear reference to the "Keyboard Cat" meme playing a song that sounds almost exactly like it.
In an episode of A Kind of Magic, Tommy accidentally summons a superhero out of a comic book. The hero's leitmotiv is an obvious pastiche of the The Incredibles main theme.
An offbeat version of the Saw theme appears in As Told by Ginger episode "Ten Chairs" when Lois is woken up at night by spooky sounds.
Julius Jr. has done this a couple of times, notably with a riff resembling Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in one episode and Take me out to the ball game in another.
The Jungle Book 2's "Jungle Rhythm" sounds a lot like "Sing, Sing, Sing," whose songwriter, Louis Prima, was the original voice of King Louie.