Francis Ford Coppola and Carmine Coppola
"The End"… at the Beginning
Arranging the music for Apocalypse Now was a father and son job: Francis Ford Coppola worked at it with his dad, Carmine. They used lots of songs from other sources, but threw in some interesting and eerie electronic ambient noises as well. You can hear some of those strange tracks here.
But the musical focus in the movie is really on the non-original compositions. The Doors' track "The End" plays at the beginning of the movie and creates an instantly ominous mood. It's the beginning. It's the end. It's the beginning of the end.
"The End" is something tour soldiers actually listened to. The Doors were huge in the 1960s—and they weren't bubblegum pop. They had a really dark side, as all the F-words and Oedipus incest references in "The End" can attest. Lead singer Jim Morrison added to the dark myth by dying at age 27. Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone—who directed the classic war film Platoon—would later direct Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors. So The Doors-Vietnam connection runs deep.
The movie's soundtrack also features a bunch of other classic songs from the era—like The Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" and The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."
Music of the '70s
The 1870s, that is.
"Ride of the Valkyries" is a section of Richard Wagner's operatic series Der Ring des Nibelungen, during which eight Valkyries (Norse mythological warrior goddess-women who decide whose gonna die in battle and then bring them back to heaven) ride back from battle to retrieve the bodies of fallen soldiers. In one of the movie's most famous scenes, Colonel Kilgore blasts the song to amp up his soldiers as their helicopters swoop in on a Viet Cong encampment. The musical piece has a total "it's raining death from above" vibe.
Sometimes a piece of music can give a scene instant epic status, like "Thus Spake Zarathustra" in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the screeching violins from the shower scene in Psycho. The Valkyrie scene is one of those iconic cinematic moments.