The material was initially developed for a Granada TV live teleplay in 1974, which was broadcast under the title Star Maker, starring Ray Davies and June Ritchie as the leads, with the Kinks providing live accompaniment. A Soap Opera adapted the same songs and plot to an audio presentation, with Ritchie in the same role. Plans for a full-scale theatrical tour were not realised, but the Kinks, with their extended mid-70s lineup, did perform the entire album on tour in 1975. Though the album was not well-received, Dave Thompson, reviewing an unofficial bootleg recording, called the live presentation "a revelation".
Soap Opera is the third concept album in the band's "theatrical period". It tells the story of a musician named Starmaker who changes places with an "ordinary man" named Norman to better understand life. Starmaker beds Norman's wife Andrea and then goes to work the next day, getting caught in the rush hour. He works 9 to 5 and then visits the pub a few drinks before making his way home. Andrea greets him, and he tells her she is "making it all worthwhile". By this point, Starmaker has lost his grip on reality; he doesn't know who he is anymore. In the end, he settles down with Andrea, accepting that he is now just "a face in the crowd". The album concludes with the sentiment that, although rock stars may fade, their music lives on.
The Starmaker is an exaggerated characterization of Ray Davies. He would often use his name in the stage version of Soap Opera and perform previous hit Kinks songs as examples of his work as a star to explain that he is not actually the "ordinary" Norman.