"The End" is death, although the song also deals with Jim Morrison's parents - it contains Oedipal themes of loving the mother and killing the father. Morrison was always vague as to the meaning, explaining: "It could be almost anything you want it to be."
The Doors developed this song during live performances at the Whisky a Go Go, a Los Angeles club where they were the house band in 1966. They had to play two sets a night, so they were forced to extend their songs in order to fill the sets. This gave them a chance to experiment with their songs.
"The End" began as Jim Morrison's farewell to Mary Werbelow, his girlfriend who followed him from Florida to Los Angeles. It developed into an 11-minute epic.
On August 21, 1966, Jim Morrison didn't show up for The Doors gig at the Whisky a Go Go. After playing the first set without him, the band retrieved Morrison from his apartment, where he had been tripping on acid. They always played "The End" as the last song, but Morrison decided to play it early in the set, and the band went along. When they got to the part where he could do a spoken improvisation, he started talking about a killer, and said, "Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to f--k you!" The crowd went nuts, but the band was fired right after the show. The Doors had recently signed a record deal and they had established a large following, so getting fired from the Whisky was not a crushing blow.
Morrison sang this live as "F--k the mother," rather than "Screw the mother." At the time, the band couldn't cross what their engineer Bruce Botnick called "the f--k barrier," so they sanitized the lyric on the album. When Botnick remixed the album for a 1999 reissue, however, he put Morrison's "f--k"s back in, which is how the song was intended.
This was famously used in the movie Apocalypse Now over scenes from the Vietnam War. Director Francis Ford Coppola had it remixed to include the line "F--k the mother."
Morrison was on an acid trip when they first tried to record this song. He kept singing "F--k the mother, kill the father" rather than the actual lyrics. In The Mojo Collection, it states: "Comprehensively wrecked, the singer wound up lying on the floor mumbling the words to his Oedipal nightmare. Then, suddenly animated, he rose and threw a TV at the control room window. Sent home by producer Paul Rothchild like a naughty schoolkid, he returned in the middle of the night, broke in, peeled off his clothes, yanked a fire extinguisher from the wall and drenched the studio. Alerted, Rothchild came back and persuaded the naked, foam-flecked Morrison to leave once more, advising the studio owner to charge the damage to Elektra; next day the band nailed the track in two takes. Morrison lived for only another five years."
This is supposedly the last song Morrison heard. The night he died, he was playing old Doors albums, ending with this one. This was the last song on that album.
This was recorded with the lights off and only one candle burning next to Morrison.
The album version of the song is an edited combination of two takes, which took a total of about 30 minutes to record. Producer Paul Rothchild called it "one of the most beautiful moments I've ever had in a recording studio."
Morrison would sometimes stop in the middle of this during concerts to get a reaction from the crowd.
The instrumentation is meant to be like an Indian raga. The guitar imitates a sitar, with seemingly unrythmic pluckings of diatonic notes. The drum beat is designed to sound like a tabla, and the keyboard is supposed to provide the humming support of a tambura.