Of the album's tracks, "Long Walk Home" had been previously heard once, late on the 2006 Sessions Band Tour; the rest were new. Most of those were written by the end of 2006; Springsteen allowed producer Brendan O'Brien (returning for a role he had for The Rising and 2005's Devils & Dust) to pick the ones that worked the best. Recording began at Southern Tracks Recording Studio in Atlanta over a period of two months beginning March 2007. It was complicated by the band members' schedules, and especially drummer Max Weinberg's weekday commitments to taping Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The band did not record as a unit: rather, during the week Springsteen worked on vocal tracks and production; on weekends the core band of Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent, and pianist Roy Bittan flew down to cut the basic tracks with Springsteen. Then periodically the other band members were called in as needed to overdub their parts under producer O'Brien's watch. Only saxophonist and longtime foil Clarence Clemons was given different treatment, with O'Brien handing the studio over to Springsteen for recording of sax parts due to "a whole dynamic [between the two of them] that spans decades."
Upon its announcement, Magic was characterized by Springsteen's manager Jon Landau as a "high energy rock" album, with a "heavy E Street Band" sound. The initial track, "Radio Nowhere", was slated as the album's first single, for release to radio on September 4, 2007; however, it leaked to the Internet on August 22, 2007. The release of the CD form of the album on October 2, 2007 was preceded by a September 25, 2007 release on vinyl record, in order to qualify the album for the Grammy Awards of 2008 before the end-of-September cutoff.
The album became available for pre-order on iTunes on August 28, 2007, with a promotion featuring the release of "Radio Nowhere" as a free downloadable single; the first legs of the accompanying Magic Tour were announced as well. The entire album began leaking to the Internet on September 6, 2007. The following day, 93.3 The Wolf's Fast Freddy in Youngstown, Ohio got a leaked copy and played the whole album over the air. In the following days tracks became available in more visible places, such as YouTube. On September 25, with the vinyl release being made, New York radio station Q1043 posted the entire album via Sneak Peek. Magic became available for purchase in Ireland, Belgium, and Germany on September 28.
The album was #2 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 50 Albums of 2007 and "Long Walk Home" was #8 on the magazine's list of 100 Best Songs 0f 2007 Magic was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album but failed to win, losing to the Foo Fighters' Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.
Two weeks after the album's initial announcement, which included an 11-song track listing, it became apparent that "Terry's Song" had been added. It is a memorial song for Springsteen's long-time assistant Terry Magovern, who died on July 30, 2007. Some pressings of the CD pre-ordered through Sony Music or other channels did not contain the extra track.
Several sources have postulated that the track "Last to Die", with its chorus of "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake / Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break," was inspired by Vietnam Veterans Against the War representative (and future senator and presidential candidate) John Kerry's 1971 testimony to the U.S. Senate, in which he asked "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
"Gypsy Biker" concerns the homecoming of a U.S. soldier killed in action in Iraq, and Springsteen has said that "Livin' in the Future" references extraordinary rendition and illegal wiretapping. "Long Walk Home" is a metaphorical account of the narrator's sense that, in the artist's words, those people living at home "he thought he knew, whose ideals he had something in common with, are like strangers." The recurring lyric "It’s gonna be a long walk home" is a response to the violation of "certain things", such as "what we'll do and what we won't", in spite of these codes having been (in the words of the narrator's father) "set in stone" by the characters' "flag flyin' over the courthouse."
Magic debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, becoming Springsteen's eighth number one album in the U.S. and selling about 335,000 copies in its first week. After falling to number two for one week, the album rose again to number one, selling about 77,000 copies that week. In its fourth week, the album fell down to number 12. By February 19 of 2008, the album's worldwide sales were 2,374,675 copies. The album received a small boost from publicity surrounding the February 2008 Grammy Awards: after 19 weeks on the chart, the album went from number 137 on the Top 200 to number 103, with a sales increase from 5,000 copies to 8,000 copies for the week.
What sales Magic gained in the United States was done despite receiving very little radio airplay. Fox News reported that media conglomerate Clear Channel had instructed its classic rock format stations not to play any tracks from Magic, even though they continued to play Springsteen songs from the 1970s and 1980s. Clear Channel responded by saying that "in the first days after the CD's release," its stations played the record more than other stations did, which did not directly address Fox News's report.
In contrast, by late November 2007 in the UK, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Long Walk Home" had been frequently played on adult contemporary stations, despite not being released as singles.
|Ireland||1 (4w)||3x Platinum|
|Norway||1 (2w)||3x Platinum|
|UK Albums Chart||1||Gold|
|U.S. Billboard 200||1 (2w)||Platinum|