There are few Doors songs that can lay claim to the same level of both musical and cultural significance as “The End”. Although the lengthy and conscious-shattering track rounds out the band’s eponymous debut, its’ concert life actually pre-dates the long player. Legend has it that early performances -- particularly during the “Oedipus section” -- were not only greeted with stunned silence, but ended up costing the band one of their first live gigs.
Lead vocalist and lyricist Jim Morrison’s poetic brilliance rarely, if ever, surpassed this slow, languid and scarily psychedelic tale that simultaneously draws on aspects of both love and hate. The narrative proved to be far more complex than most concurrent pop/rock at the time. As such, it requires the listener to ultimately surrender to the complexity of the multiple layers woven into the story line. In keeping with Morrison’s lyrical capacity for ambiguity, an analysis often begs more questions than it ultimately answers.
The tale of incestuous lust and murder comes full-circle and is framed by the ultimate finality in Morrison’s statement that “This is the end.”
Although “The End” was often included as part of the Doors early live sets, it became a real rarity in the wake of the litigious situations that Morrison found himself mired in during 1969. One of the last concert performances is available on the posthumously issued live Doors In Detroit (2000) CD set.
Arguably the most notable cover version is by Nico, as the title track from her 1974 release. Although it might seem impossible, she turns the song into an even more torrid and wrenching musical maze of madness. Her version is often dismissed by Doors fans as ‘unlistenable’, however her rendering on the seminal June 1, 1974 LP is perhaps more what Morrison actually intended.
Another notable use of this song was by Francis Ford Coppola during the commencing sequence of his Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979). The marriage of sound and image has rarely been as cinematically memorable. To quote Marlon Brando -- “the horror … the horror”.