KooKoo was recorded while Harry and boyfriend Chris Stein were taking a year long break from the band Blondie. The album was produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the 70s disco group Chic, who had just had major success working with Diana Ross on her 1980 album Diana. Harry and Stein first met the pair at the Power Station recording studio in New York while Blondie were recording their 1979 album Eat To The Beat, and they remained good friends in the intervening years. KooKoo was one of three albums to be (co)written and produced by Rodgers and Edwards in 1981, the other two being Chic's fifth album Take It Off and Johnny Mathis' I Love My Lady which remains unreleased.
KooKoo showcased the early fusion of funk, rock and dance music that would become the trademark of Rodgers and Edwards, and this style would later be evident on albums such as David Bowie'sLet's Dance, Duran Duran's Notorious, The Power Station's self-titled debut album, and Robert Palmer's Riptide. Backing vocals were provided by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale of Devo, credited as Spud and Pud Devo.
KooKoo reached #6 in the UK and stayed in the charts for seven weeks, being certified "Silver" by the BPI for sales in excess of 60,000 copies. The album reached #25 in the US and was certified "Gold" by the RIAA for sales in excess of 500,000 copies.
Originally only available on vinyl album and cassette, KooKoo was digitally remastered and re-issued on compact disc with two bonus tracks (the 12" versions of "Backfired" and "The Jam Was Moving") by EMI in the UK in 1994, and by Razor & Tie in the US in 1999, this time with just one bonus track. The album was reissued again in the US by Gold Legion.com in 2011 (the 30th anniversary of the album's release). This reissue includes three bonus tracks (both of the aforementioned 12" versions, and also the rare extended mix of "Inner City Spillover") as well as extensive liner notes.
The cover art for the album was created by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, best known for his design work on the 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien. Based on a photograph of Harry taken by the renowned photographer Brian Aris, Giger created several variations of the cover (another of which is seen on the album's inner sleeve) in what Harry described as a combination of punk, acupuncture and sci-fi. Harry stated that the album title came to her after she saw Giger's completed work, and although she had misgivings about the conceptual ideas behind the artwork (as she did not identify either the album or herself as "punk"), she was suitably impressed to use it anyway.
For the promotion of KooKoo, Chrysalis Records planned to display large posters of the album cover in various stations of the London Underground. However, officials deemed the image of Harry with metal skewers going through her face and neck to be too disturbing. A TV ad campaign went ahead, however.
Promo videos were made for the tracks "Backfired" and "Now I Know You Know", both directed by Giger and filmed at his studio in Switzerland. "Backfired" featured a dark-haired Harry dancing superimposed over a backdrop of Giger's distinctive artwork, with Giger himself appearing in a semi-translucent face mask. "Now I Know You Know" featured Harry in a long black wig and a form-fitting bodysuit painted with Giger's unusual artwork, dancing around in a small set furnished with Giger's "bio-mechanical" design work.
Two singles were released from the album: "Backfired", which peaked at #24 in Australia, #32 in the UK and #43 in the US in August 1981, and "The Jam Was Moving" which reached #82 in the US but failed to chart in the UK or Australia.
Bonus Tracks CD Re-Issue UK 1994
Bonus Track CD Re-Issue US 1999
Bonus Tracks CD Re-Issue 2011