During the five years Elise Greenberg and Steve Miller lived at the corner of 2nd Street and Girard Avenue, they got used to it being extremely loud. All the time.
With an Acme, a liquor store, and a dollar store nearby, the streets below their second-story corner apartment on the border of Northern Liberties and North Philly were always buzzing with foot traffic and cars blaring music while stopped at the intersection.
Then quarantine hit in March and things got quiet, eerily quiet.
“It was super weird when lockdown happened and it was silent,” Greenberg said. “We had to buy ourselves a white noise machine because it was too quiet.”
When hints of normalcy finally began to return, the couple found themselves out on their deck one night, grateful for the sounds below and now, more curious than ever, about the songs blasting from passing cars’ stereos.
So they began using the Shazam app on their phones — which can identify songs based on a short sample — to capture the tunes that passing motorists were playing. They were able to identify more than 80 songs over the spring and summer from which they created a public playlist on Spotify called “Girard Jams.”
“It’s literally a playlist by Philly for Philly, and I think that’s pretty cool,” said Greenberg, 29, a membership coordinator with Mariposa Food Co-op.
The artists on the list range from Lil Uzi Vert to Pink Floyd and the songs — in both English and Spanish — span several decades and genres, from rap and rock to salsa and synth-pop new wave.
“I think the playlist captures the diversity of the city and that’s what makes it so wonderful,” said Miller, 30, who shares a name with musician Steve Miller (though "some people call me Maurice,” he said).
Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he found the most fascinating part about the playlist was the people who took the time to create it.
“Increasingly, we are consuming our music from services that choose the playlist based on algorithms,” he said. “So how about someone who did not create a playlist from artificial intelligence, but just through human randomness. If we all listen to playlists created in that manner for us, you might get a different understanding about the world surrounding you.”
Ramsey said that much like our cars, the music we listen to when we’re in them is very personal. And unlike when we consume music through headphones, we have the capacity to share the music we listen to in our cars with others when we turn up the volume.
“There’s a sense of ‘I’ve made the right choice. Here, listen,' ” Ramsey said.
And listen Miller and Greenberg did. Whenever they heard a song from their apartment over the last few months, whether it was “Flexin N' Flashin” from SimxSantana or “Ella Quiere Beber” by Anuel AA and Romeo Santos, one of them would make a mad dash for their phone to try and capture it.
“As long as the windows were open, it was fine," Greenberg said. “But honestly, some of it was so loud that even if the windows were closed, you could still get it.”
Miller, who listens to a lot of heavy metal music, said creating the playlist helped him see which artists are trending right now.
“Lil Baby is having a good summer,” said Miller, who works as a legal writer for a law firm.
DJ Doc B of Power 99 said rapper Lil Baby is big right now and seven of the songs from various artists on the playlist are in rotation on his station, which plays current hip-hop and R&B.
“There’s some good songs on there," he said. “The first thing that pops out in my mind about the list is the diversity, and if they’re Shazaming at that intersection‚ it’s a very diverse intersection."
Looking at the list, which contains artists from Akwid to Aerosmith and Joyner Lucas to the Hollies, Ramsey said his immediate takeaways were “rock is durable and hip-hop is pop.”
While Philly’s own Meek Mill does appear twice on the list, Greenberg said she was surprised more of his songs didn’t show up. She was also surprised that anybody would blast a Fall Out Boy song — ever — but someone did (“Sugar, We’re Going Down”), so they had to put that on the list, too.
To Miller, the most unusual song someone was rocking out to while they drove by is the 1982 Thomas Dolby track, “She Blinded Me with Science."
“That is one I did not expect,” he said.
But DJ Doc B said he didn’t find any of the songs on the list unusual.
“Nothing really surprised me about it because the one thing I know about music now is a song that one person may not be into may be another person’s favorite song," he said. “So it’s not that anything would shock me, it’s more so ‘Let me go check that out.’ ”
Which is exactly what Greenberg did after Shazaming several songs, including “Automatic” by the Pointer Sisters.
“It was cool because I looked them up and learned all about them,” she said. “That was a fun exploration.”
After months of compiling the songs, Miller and Greenberg recently made their “Girard Jams” playlist public on Spotify, where it already has more than 470 followers.
“It really challenged them to think about their city in a different way, and they’re now sharing it with people so that they can have a similar sensation,” Ramsey said.
Even though Greenberg and Miller moved last month to a house in Brewerytown, they plan to continue adding to the list with songs they overhear at their new intersection.
“For continuity, we’ll keep the name, but the principle remains the same,” Greenberg said. “Philly is truly the DJ.”