It's that the spells don't represent the kind of fantasy world that really groks with the way that the fantasy world should be. They're overly specific, and totally random in their nature. For example, Sleep is of the same level as Ventriloquism, and more rediculously, Lower Water is the same level as Disintegrate, Reincarnation, and Death Spell. One of these things is not like the other, I'm afraid. No wizard in their right mind will ever pick Lower Water if they have a choice. Not a single one.
"But Mr. Crayon," one may say, "aren't you imposing a game balance on a game that's meant to simulate a particular kind of wizardry, one that's based on the works of one Mr. J. Vance?"
Firstly, I like Jack Vance, so no cookie for you. Secondly, no. Think of it in game-world terms.
Wizards sat down and studied these spells, and passed them down to their pupils, who passed them down to their pupils, and so on. The entire system of magic was designed by an individual who harnessed some sort of mysterious, campaign-related power to cast spells. If it was designed by individual wizards, that means that some idiot somewhere decided that Lower Water deserved to be a higher level spell than Knock, Lightning Bolt, Fireball, Charm Person, Wall of Fire, Fly, and Haste.
This is a man who, in game terms, is a genius. And he decided that making water lower is harder to do than to teleport himself across the world. He sat down and made a spell that clearly sucks in comparison to the other things he could be doing with his time and effort. And that's just stupid.
Secondly, I can't think of a single book that I've ever read where the spells were quite so boring. Excepting, of course, the unavoidable R.A. Salvatore's that is, but he alone provides the rule. And, notice, his books are about warrior-types, who leap across walls and cut dudes for twenty some-odd pages. Magic is in the background, especially magic-using types. Magic doesn't have to be so dull, it really doesn't. Wizards should be casting cool spells, and they should at least have some variety.
Unless, of course, the wizards in your campaign come from McWizzy's School of Magery. Then everybody casting Magic Missile and Sleep at first level is totally acceptable. I kid!
Anyways, the result of all this thinking and considering and posulating is a short document that should replace the old, generic list with some spells that aren't quite so, how shall we say, uneven. Spells that will actually require magic users to consider the benefits and drawbacks of their spells, possibly even requiring them to make meaningful choices the way that fighters and theives must. (What's that, you say? Fighters don't have all that many choices to make? Hey, gimme a sec, I'm just one guy ;) )
Without further ado, here's the level one spell list, for your reading pleasure.
L1 Spells (Level 1 Magic User)
Monsters at this level: Orc, Kobold, Elf
1.Force Orb- Caster hurls a globe of raw force which deals 1d6 + caster level damage if it hits.
2.Befuddle- 1d4 hit dice per level must save vs spells or do nothing for 1d6 turns.
3.Thunderclap- An incredibly loud blast of sound knocks nearby foes backwards
4.Conjure Beast- Summons a 1HD monster, description is up to the caster.
5.Defend- Friendly target gains +2 AC for a short duration.
6.Tremor- The earth shudders weakly, possibly knocking nearby foes off balance.
7.Ignite- Flammable object goes up in flames.
8.Intuition- A single word of advice from the DM.
9.Illuminate- The caster's hand glows as a torch.
10.Static Shock- Touching an opponent deals 1d8 + caster level electrical damage
You'll notice that a lot of these don't have any hard and fast rules on what, exactly takes place. That's kind of the point. I think that long, detailed spell descriptions goes strongly against the "make it up as you go along" ethic of old-school play, so these tend to be relatively fast and loose. Remember that the DM has final say over the effect of these spells, and that they're still first level. While each of them is useful in their own way and possibly deadly, they're still the very tip of the iceberg of magic.
You'll also notice that these spells are mostly useful to adventurers. That's kind of the point. Spells that aren't useful to adventuring magic users aren't going to be chosen by adventuring magic users and that's kind of that. And if you really want them, make them up as you go along. Your players don't need to know the duration of minor cantrips, and neither does it matter.
Apologies for the long post, but hopefully at least the semi-complete first level spell list makes up for it.