In my obsessive-compulsive youth, one of my most shameful secrets was The Notebook. Sometime in my early teens, I began using the notebook — an ordinary green-cover 5-subject spiral notebook — to chronicle my favorite songs of the moment. It started out as a top ten list, which I’d compose whenever I felt like it or whenever I had the time or whenever Howard Jones put out something new. But within a few months, I was producing a weekly chart roundup that comprised a full five pages, front and back. My singles list gradually grew into a Top 50, along with a Top 25 albums chart (and I was always aware of the irony that I didn’t even own many of them), an R&B chart, Top 10 Recurrent, Top Album Tracks and even Jerry’s Top Adult Contemporary (I was never aware of the irony of this).

As closely as possible, I modeled my notebook after Billboard Magazine. I structured all the charts with ruler-drawn columns giving current and previous chart positions, weeks on chart, peak position and, my personal favorite, a “predicted peak” (because I always knew ahead of time how much I’d eventually grow to like a song). I even had hot shot debuts, greatest gainers and biggest droppers, all of which were gently shaded in with pencil. And at the end of December, I used a complicated labor-intensive formula to tabulate the biggest hits of the year, which were listed, of course, in an expanded special edition.

Yeah, I was a weird kid.

Eventually, obsession gave way to fatigue, as I just couldn’t keep up with the demands of constantly updating my many, many charts. Sometimes, I’d fall behind and do two or three weeks at once, which soiled the integrity of the entire process. Coupled with the constant shame of what I knew was the ultimate in geekiness (I hid that notebook the way most kids hide porn, and NOBODY knew about it), one day I closed my notebook for good. It sat in my desk for a while, tucked carefully away and neglected. But I worried constantly that it would one day be discovered. What if I died an untimely death in some horribly tragic accident? Somebody would come by to pack up my things, and they would flip through every humiliating page of that notebook, mocking it not only for what it represented in a broader sense but for the myriad eccentricities of mine it would reveal. (“Man, I had no idea Jerry liked a-ha so much!”) My unending paranoia led me to destroy the thing I had once loved so dearly by tearing the entire two-inch-thick notebook into pieces no more than a half-inch square. I then buried the confetti of my loserhood, a few pieces at a time (nothing anyone could paste back together), at the bottom of the kitchen trash can, until eventually my whole notebook was gone.

I miss that notebook. I think about it the way some people think about the first boy they kissed on a cool, moonlit night at summer camp. I really wish I could dig it out and peek through all the memories inside. But a few years ago, around the time I started wishing I could get my notebook back, I got my first CD-RW drive. Suddenly, I had a new way to embrace my inner obsessive-compulsive music freak weirdo. I’ll probably never again have a weekly Top 50, but in the days when everyone’s burning CDs, an annual Top 20 seems perfectly socially acceptable (and almost obligatory).

When I started this up again, I thought a lot about issues like whether I should only include singles, or whether album tracks were acceptable, or what specifically comprised the eligibility dates for my best-of-year countdown. Then I decided not to take the fun out of it by turning it into something I’d want to tear up and bury at the bottom of my parents’ trash can. So here then, without any further explanation, is Jerry’s Official Top 20 Countdown for 2003. Keep your feet in the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.

20. Jerk It Out – Caesars

19. You Know So Well – Sondre Lerche

18. Let’s Push Things Forward – The Streets

17. Don’t Steal Our Sun – The Thrills

16. Nothing Precious At All – Stereophonics

15. Why Can’t I? – Liz Phair

14. Dreaming of You – The Coral

13. Dinner at Eight – Rufus Wainwright

12. Mexican Wine – Fountains of Wayne

11. The Way We Get By – Spoon

10. Fidelity – Starsailor

9. Picture – Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow

8. I Need More Love – Robert Randolph & The Family Band

7. Deckchairs and Cigarettes – The Thrills

6. Crazy in Love – Beyonce featuring Jay-Z

5. Danger! High Voltage – Electric Six

4. God Put a Smile Upon Your Face – Coldplay

3. 14th Street – Rufus Wainwright

2. Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone? – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

1. Hey Ya! – Outkast

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