Four of you weighed in redoubtably on my three-spell challenge: Courtney of Hack & Slash, Changeling Bob, the Rubber Duck and Paul. There was actually quite a bit of consensus, so that I could pick six spells at first level and three at first that had all gathered multiple votes, and very few multiply-endorsed spells were left on the floor. This was as I had suspected; with the classic spell lists and even up through 3rd Edition, some spells clearly stand out as winners.
Here's the first level. You get to pick one each of a spell that takes the whole night to recover, a spell that takes a ten-minute turn to recover, and a spell you can cast at will. At character level 2 a wizard gets to pick another spell. Spells can get easier to recover as you gain levels; I put these power-ups on the even numbered levels because you get new spell levels on the odd-numbered ones.
I like to tweak spells to make them maximally useful. So yes, Light can be cast on someone's eyes, but they get a save to see if it lands on their hair instead, and let's also say you can only have one Light on at any given time. Shield basically creates a disk shaped force field no more than a yard off the ground that can be used to haul treasure, block a door, and thousands of other uses. Feather Fall can make you feather light for six seconds, enough to be hurled by the party strongman up onto that remote ledge.
Well, this is a minimal wizard. But she's guaranteed to get two out of three of the Most Useful Spells at first level, and has the weaker powers compensated by at-will use. It's a way of smoothing out the magic-user power curve by boosting first level powers, while making the higher-level powers not multiply so dramatically.
I'll do levels 2 and 3 next post, and I'm also thinking about splitting the spell lists into, for want of a better word, Day and Night paths. Where, for example, Day = Light, Feather Fall, Shield, Magic Missile, Create Rock, and Grease/Glue ... and Night = Ventriloquism, Unseen Servant, Summon 1 HD Monster, Comprehend Languages, Charm Person and Sleep. That gives a little more choice but doubles the spell list's size.