I ran across a tidy little clip reel of Bugs Bunny's "Albuquerque" quotes. I have no idea if it's comprehensive, nor when the individual scenes date from, but I began to wonder if this could have been the first popular culture reference point for the Duke City. I mean, since the cartoon began in the 40's and seemingly these likely date from the 60's or 70's at the latest, what could have come before this?
I really just love hearing him say that over and over in what Mel Blanc described in the day as a "Flatbush" accent.
America surely knew, in 1947, that Albuquerque was the final home of Ernie Pyle, but does that count? I'm thinking of more trite and show-bizzy instances- like the I Love Lucy episode where Ethel Mertz goes back to her "home town", Albuquerque. That was in January of 1955, and Vivian Vance actually was from Albuquerque.
Johnny Cash mentions Albuquerque in a song he co-wrote with Bob Dylan in 1969, Wanted Man. Then the "Albuquerque" songs, first by Neil Young, then Weird Al. But those are 1975 and 1999, respectively.
The only other "early" pop culture reference I can think of off the top of my head is a great moment and song in a Partridge Family Episode, from the 70's... anybody remember the song that went, "Point me, in the direction of Albuquerque, I need to get hooo-oo--oo--me, I need to get ho-o-ome."? Praise Jah for Lala.com... listen to that gem right here.
I decided to do a little surface-level research, get some exact dates or better info on where the Bugs Bunny line originated, and I only came up with this unsatisfying tidbit from the Wikipedia page, "Sometimes in the beginning of a short, Bugs will pop up in the middle of a random place and say 'I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.'" What's worse, the line came at the end of a paragraph relating the association that the Bugs character has with Groucho Marx, but it is unclear whether the Albuquerque line is a derivative of one of Marx's schticks. English syntax aficionados can judge for themselves in the second paragraph, here.
There really is no telling what popular references formed America's early impressions of the Duke City, unless, of course, you ask somebody old. But even then, their answer is likely skewed by the ravages of time and sociocultural change.
I guess I'll just have to leave my pursuit of semi-scholarly research regarding the early pop culture instances of our fair burg there for now. Surely you have more. But nothing since the 80's, please.